UPS on The Web

It Delivers The Goods (In 1995)

Francis Vale

UPS is a good example of a company making the Internet/Web part of its business. It is therefore worthwhile to look more closely at how UPS is doing its organizational integration. According to Steve Heit, Network Development Manager, (Atlanta, GA) UPS put up its first Web server via a Sun SPARC 20 workstation on May 19th, 1995. The official release announcing the new server did not go out until June 20th.

But in the interim, the UPS Web site had visits from over 60 countries, 35,000 packages had been tracked, and the server is now averaging 100,000 hits per week, and growing. The UPS server has also been listed on the What's Cool page. In short, the UPS Web site has had a very favorable response, and without a lot of promotional materials or corporate expense.

The corporate philosophy underpinning its Web server is to help you better communicate with UPS, to more effectively use its services, and to provide something of value for the person who comes to visit. The intent, therefore, is to use the Web as an engine of service for UPS customers.

Package tracking is obviously the first and foremost use of the UPS Web server. But another goal is to make it convenient for other companies to dynamically link into UPS services via the 'Net. For example, Marshall, a large electronics distributor on the west coast, has built a package tracking hypertext 'Net link from its Web page right into the UPS Web page.

Thus, a Marshall customer has easy, one stop access to information about its shipments. UPS is now receiving many requests per day for similar Marshall-style services. These companies want to tie the UPS Web site into their own order entry system. This way, they can quickly figure out what orders a customer has in process, and then offer various options for shipping. UPS is thus offering an electronic partnership with purveyors of products via the 'Net and the Web.

The UPS preferred Web architecture, and typical of the back-end linkages to its legacy systems, uses a second internal server -- usually a small UNIX SPARC workstation -- which is linked to the web Server. UPS can then thread the internal server and build as many paths as it needs to other legacy systems. The Web server, Heit noted, also has the great advantage of being application/location independent.

The other reason for having two servers communicate with each other (one internal, the other external), is that there is a huge UPS net behind the corporate firewall, and Heit says "You want to control the access inside." Package tracking transactions are all that is allowed to get past the gateway. By controlling the transactions between the two servers, UPS gets great flexibility plus control.

UPS has many large scale IBM mainframes. But there is no standard legacy system to Web connection method, as UPS has so many different systems and platforms. UPS already has numerous types of hooks into its mainframes via APPC. In other cases, UPS uses 3270 connections into the mainframe. So overall, each link is somewhat unique.

As noted by Heit, "In performance-based systems, you have to leverage the performance of the server." In the case of the SPARC 20-hosted Web server, it links into a DB2 backend with a CICS front end. The package tracking system itself actually uses an IBM AS400 application server linked to the UPS Web server via token ring.

Heit also positively commented on the emerging phenomenon of extending the system independent Web protocols for use within large companies. He sees the potential internal user market within UPS as being just as large, and perhaps even larger, as the external customer market.

He also thinks that the 'Net + Web might be the next logical step in client server. But in the case of UPS, the Web is not so much a client server migration method as it is just another path, or a new path to an asset already built. At UPS, the Web client is becoming the new front end that gives ubiquitous access to legacy systems that cost tens of millions of dollars to build.

As a developer, Heit noted that Web development is "a lot more fun than usual." He said upper management at UPS is delighted with the Web project, as they are seeing a huge return for a relatively small investment. "It is a goldmine." As a consequence of this success, Heit's group has been given a lot of latitude to short cut paths, and to get things done.

Says Heit, "Management is very supportive

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Copyright 1995, Francis Vale All Rights Reserved

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