DHL Supply Chain, a division of DHL International GmbH, needed a uniform way to integrate the ERP systems and data sets of its warehouse management customers with DHL’s internal systems.
The company chose the Sterling Transformation Extender solution to convert its customers’ data into formats compatible with the DHL integration platform and the customers’ industry regulations and standards.
Supports more than 17,000 custom integration mapsconnecting customer systems and DHL integration platform
Helps transform 2.2 billion messages per yearvia Integration Center of Excellence (as of 2018)
Enables fast, flexible onboarding of customersinto DHL warehouse management system
Business challenge story
Integrating customers, one by one
The customer is the top priority at DHL Supply Chain. A division of DHL International GmbH, DHL Supply Chain offers warehousing and distribution services to more than 2,000 customers spanning industries, countries and sizes.
Two-way communication between those customers and DHL is core to the company’s warehouse management business, which provides both dedicated and shared warehousing options based on customer need. A customer’s ERP system must be able to interact with DHL’s systems — to notify the warehouse when goods are coming in or need to be pulled off the shelf and shipped, for example, or to exchange vital information and updates, such as availability of new product lines or delivery statuses.
Facilitating that data flow is not a one-size-fits-all task. Each customer’s data comes in different formats and follows different standards, depending upon such factors as a customer’s internal IT infrastructure, industry and location.
“For DHL, it’s really, really important for us to meet our customers’ needs. We’ve got a huge variety of customers across pretty much all of the industry verticals,” says Olly Cruickshank, Director of Product Management and Development for DHL. “And so we have to be able to accept any format our customers’ data is in and be sure the mapping tools we use can handle the transformation into our back-end systems.”
For many years, DHL built customized integration platforms each time it onboarded a new customer. It was a time-consuming, laborious and expensive process. There was very little strategy behind the integrations and very little reuse.
The division decided to bring its different integration platforms together into one system. To do so, it needed a consistent way to map its customers’ data sets to the DHL warehouse management system.
A more cohesive approach to integration
After evaluating various integration tools, DHL chose the Sterling Transformation Extender solution due to its ability to automate complex transformations between any formats. The solution is used to map data from customers’ platforms to a custom internal integration management platform. That platform, which connects customer systems with DHL systems and is the Integration Center of Excellence for DHL Supply Chain, is now known internally as DHL Link.
At first, there was some pushback within the company. “The greatest challenge in getting started was resistance from the business — people wanted to protect their own integration platforms,” says Cruickshank. “But once they saw how the solution enabled faster, cheaper integration, it became a no-brainer to switch.”
DHL employs individuals — called mappers — to develop maps with the Sterling Transformation Extender solution that integrate each customer’s unique systems and data with DHL Link. Maps define interfaces between applications, data stores, middleware and other maps.
When a request comes into the integration team, the build team manager assigns an analyst to look at the transformations involved, create some mapping certifications and document the integration process. A mapper is assigned to create the maps and prepare them for testing, after which the integration goes live. Usually the process is very smooth and there are no issues.
“We’ve got a large team of approximately 50 mappers who are happily using and developing maps,” says Cruickshank. “We’ve got lots of maps to process lots of data, and we find the performance is excellent. One of the features we particularly like is the ability to call up the map from a variety of tools.”
The future outlook
The DHL Link platform has continuously evolved, and DHL has added new components. But the one consistent piece, according to Cruickshank, has been the use of the Sterling Transformation Extender solution’s maps.
And with more than 17,000 developed maps, the company is committed to continuing to use the solution in the future. “We’ve looked at other tools and none of them meet our needs in terms of either the ability to process any type of formatted data or the ability to do any transformation quickly and easily,” says Cruickshank. “These are the two key reasons we’ve stuck with Sterling Transformation Extender for so long.”
IBM continues to innovate and add new functions to improve performance of its transformations, especially for those that are more complicated. It keeps abreast of new industry data formats, such as XML and JSON, and incorporates them into the tool on an ongoing basis. The process for building maps has also evolved from using a Microsoft Windows desktop application to a simple, easy-to-use, browser-based application.
“The key benefit of the solution is its flexibility,” says Cruickshank. “When onboarding a customer, we don’t want to tell them it’s going to take two days to develop an interface and then discover it’s actually going to take 20 days because it’s more complicated than we thought. Because Sterling Transformation Extender can handle the complexity of different data formats, we can be really confident that what we quote to the customer is what we’re going to deliver on.”
Going forward, DHL has plans for additional updates. For example, to enhance efficiency, performance and cost savings, it is looking into running the Sterling Transformation Extender solution on containers in the DHL private cloud.
DHL International GmbH
DHL is an American-founded German company which is now the international courier, parcel and express mail division of the German logistics company Deutsche Post DHL. DHL Supply Chain is a division of the company that offers warehousing and distribution services to more than 2,000 cross-industry customers worldwide. The division has been using the IBM Sterling Transaction Extender solution since 2001.
Take the Next Step
To learn more about the IBM solutions featured in this story, please contact your IBM representative or IBM Business Partner.