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BIE thrives as Open Source Project

BIE thrives as Open Source Project

Published By: NewsForge
Viewed: 10808

JT Smith was interviewed for this article on News Forge in 2003.

- by Daniel P. Dern -
You know that the Open Source approach is gaining acceptance when even companies not primarily in the software industry are beginning to get into the act. WDI, a division of Brunswick New Technologies, has released its Business Integration Engine (BIE) as an Open Source project.


Founded in 1845 to make billiard tables, WDI's parent Brunswick Corp. is a $3.7 billion, 21,000 employee company, currently making a wide variety of products. Besides making and selling boats, marine-related items, fitness products, bowling equipment, and operating more than 100 bowling centers, Brunswick today makes pool, table hockey, and foosball tables. And through the Brunswick New Technologies group, Brunswick is also getting into techier stuff like marine navigational systems, marine dealer management systems, and GPS devices.

At first blush, this is an unlikely organization to create Open Source software, much less an Open Source-based business. But that's exactly what is happening: Brunswick's WDI is offering BIE as Open Source-based software, and selling support, training, documentation and other professional services, even using SourceForge as a development management environment for BIE.

Andy Singleton, who manages Assembla, a site about managing distributed projects, and serves as CTO for three startup clients, observes, "There are economic incentives for companies to release their apps under Open Source or at least Community licenses...The company that releases the code that way will save on maintenance and enhancements costs, since they will share those costs [with other companies]."

BIE is a Java-based application integration server that competes against (and can communicate with) Microsoft's BizTalk Server. It's available from Brunswick New Technologies' WDI Group in a no-cost GPL version and a variety of other licensed versions. (By contrast, BizTalk can cost, per processor, anywhere from $999 for a Partner License to $6,999 for the Standard Edition and $24,999 for the Enterprise Edition, plus operating system and hardware costs.)

Begun as an internal tool

BIE began as a solution to Brunswick's own needs. It was initially developed for e-business use internally at Brunswick for use by its business partners. "We have like 10,000 dealers globally, ranging from small mom-and-pops to publicly traded companies," says Lambert. "Being able to electronically transact with them was very important."

However, a lot of the software packages available at the time weren't a good fit, especially for the smaller dealers, Lambert recalls. After evaluating commercial packages, WDI decided that in-house development using an Open Source approach made the most sense. "We realized we had to do something that others could develop from ... and that Open Source would be the easiest way to do this." Brunswick was already making use of Open Source, she notes. "We have individuals on our staff with years of Open Source experience."

The result was BIE, written in Java (requiring Java 1.4), capable of running on platforms including Linux and Windows. BIE is an application-to-application integration server -- a.k.a. middleware -- providing transformation, translation, and transport services for applications.

"BIE talks among existing systems and makes them work better ... if you've got data and want to move it around," explains JT Smith, director of technology at WDI.

"We knew we'd have to give it away pretty cheap to get it to all the dealers and divisions," Smith says. "Since there wasn't a lot of money to be made in that regard -- it was close to giving it away -- we decided why not give it away, and give it to the Open Source community, and reap the benefits."

Making BIE Open Source has had several benefits, according to Lambert. "We were able to deliver the product faster. And making it available to anyone interested was a key goal. Our sales cycle becomes free -- you just go download it."

Lambert says BIE is a better product because it's Open Source. "We can leverage knowledge and experience of people in other industries we might otherwise not, which is to our benefit. And this allows us to focus on the areas where we are strong, like development, project management, support, and training, which is where we provide the most value. Our revenue model is similar to MySQL AB's -- we sell professional support, do training classes on how to use BIE, and sell advanced documentation. And we recently launched our proprietary licensing program; we've had requests from companies who want to embed our stuff."

The choice of Java reflected the range of systems in use within Brunswick, in part "because they buy a lot of companies," notes Smith, who said there's "lots of BSD, Linuxes, Windows, Unixes, Macs, mainframes, all kinds of stuff. So being able to run anywhere was pretty important, and Java is pretty much the de facto enterprise language, and it's cross-platform. And we knew we wanted to work with popular messaging protocols like Web services and JMS (Java Messenger Service), and only Java would support JMS."

According to Smith, Brunswick is using BIE for a wide range of integration tasks. "We're integrating traditional business transactions like purchase orders and warranty claims, some data mining like from Sales to a central database, some content integration with extranets so we can publish data to a Web page, and data replication from user repositories to other places, so they're always in synch."

"BIE can be used just for internal apps integration, but where we see the most need is for companies with supply channel integration issue."

For example, at one of Brunswick's boat companies, where it had been taking up to 90 days to see boat sales from dealer channels, BIE was recently used to collect sales data directly from the accounting application and send it back daily to the boat manufacturer, according to Smith. "They now have much more accurate stats on what's been sold -- they've gone from 90 days to daily."

Using BIE also translates to hard dollar savings, Smith notes. "Manual processing of an order costs about $50 to $60 for rekeying. If you can electronically integrate it, that drops costs to about five dollars per purchase order. And while some deals may have only two or three POs a day, other dealers may have 50 or 60. And that doesn't even include the supply side savings, for any manufacturer integration."

So far, BIE is looking like a big success. "We have over 2,400 registered downloads of BIE," Lambert says, noting it is being used not only by three Brunswick divisions, but also by other organizations, including Doctor Solutions Inc., the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and a multi-billion-dollar building materials company. "If you count our professional services, support and training, we currently have around 40 customers."

Because BIE is available for free download, Lambert notes, "It's difficult to know exactly how many companies are using BIE at this point. We have tracked a wide variety of industries downloading BIE, from major financial institutions to major brands in the automotive space. We've also tracked a fair amount of consultants and systems integrators that are evaluating BIE for their customer's projects."

According to Lambert, "We are currently engaged with five software companies, specifically in health care and telecommunications, that are considering BIE as a complement to their software. Considering that we've only been 'out' for three months, we are very happy with our success."

"From the end users, we've heard nothing but rave reviews," Smith says. "They don't know BIE is behind it, but they know they can get information they couldn't before."

"BIE is quite amazing in terms of its simplicity, and the fact that it's built on other Open Source technologies," notes Hugh Brien, vice president of Dunbar Consulting Inc., the systems integrator that worked with the SEC for BIE. "That's the thing that attracted us to it even more, that it's built on top of other Jakarta/Apache products, like Tomcat and Struts.... There's a whole series of Jakarta libraries there, regular expressions, the whole smash.... If you look in the library and open up the directory, there's a whole bunch of Open Source components there. So it wasn't just like someone built a proprietary product, couldn't sell it and decided to Open Source it.... You could tell they were committed by the approach they used in building and architecting the product."

According to Smith, WDI developers will be continuing to enhance BIE functions. For example, "The 6.0 release coming out later this year will include full support for JMS and JBOSS." They're also looking at functions to support use of BIE in more industries and activities, including data warehousing and distributed computing.

"We have quite a few companies using or considering BIE for projects, but they want the project information kept confidential," notes Lambert. "One company even stated that they feel BIE is a competitive advantage for them and they don't want their competitors to know they are using it."