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"Panasonic spent years developing an efficient order processing system. Accessing that data reliably, and with high performance, was critical - MitemView made that possible.

Peter Schepis
Manager
Panasonic Services Company

 

MITEM Case Study - Panasonic

Panasonic Services Company (PASC) is a wholly-owned operating company of Matsushita Electric Corporation of America (MECA) based in Secaucus, New Jersey. MECA is the North American arm of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. of Japan.

Panasonic - the services sector of the $7.3 billion MECA - is responsible for all Panasonic, Technics and Quasar products distributed in North America.

Business Problem

Panasonic's Home Page Panasonic Online, which operates using Microsoft's IIS, publishes a variety of informational topics including product promotions, special events, news, customer support, and product catalogues. In October 1996, Panasonic Services was given the directive by Panasonic Consumer Electronics to enable consumer purchases of products over the Internet by April 1997! A significant constraint in designing a web-based system was the extensive inventory and parts ordering system (called Vision) which resided on an IBM mainframe. These applications provide inventory information such as availability, substitutions, and pricing. Panasonic felt that it was essential to find a technical solution which would integrate with Panasonic's Home Page and provide very high speed, real-time access to the Vision system. Peter Schepis, Assistant General Manager, commissioned a technology team to identify and evaluate tools and architectures which could deliver the project objectives.

Figure 1

Figure 1 - Panasonic Parts and Accessories Ordering

Project Goals

In order to provide true electronic commerce, Panasonic needed an application which produced product pricing, availability, substitutions and direct purchasing on the Internet, while allowing real-time access to the data residing on the mainframe. In developing this solution, security of their production mainframe application was a high concern.

The Panasonic Electronic Commerce Application had the following technical requirements:

Support high number of simultaneous, concurrent Browser sessions
Support a multiprocessor server
Provide secure mainframe access using Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certification, incorporating RSA & Verisign software
Co-exist with Microsoft IIS and ASP
Recognize inappropriate host states & error messages, and report via email
Easily maintained and upgraded
Execute as a service under WinNT
Design easy-to-use Web pages
Support for dynamic HTML pages

The Panasonic Electronic Commerce Application had the following business requirements:

Real time access to parts & accessories inventory by customers & dealers
Simple procedures for fulfilling orders
Rapid implementation (<6 months)
Improved customer service through an easy-to use application
Reduced customer telephone inquiries
Enable secure credit card processing environment over the Internet
Enhance customer exposure to Panasonic's products & services
Leverage Panasonic's huge investment in existing mainframe-based order processing, fulfilment and inventory systems.

Implementation

The project team evaluated a number of technologies including Salvo from Simware, Attachmate, and IBM's Internet Gateway. Panasonic selected MitemView as the technology for their application.

All requests in the Parts and Accessories Ordering System are initiated by a call from either a Netscape or Internet Explorer Browser. All requests pass through the Raptor Firewall to the Windows NT 4.0 Web Server. Panasonic has configured three IP sockets (or ports) on the WinNT server supporting; HTTP on the Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS), MitemWeb, and Secure Socket Layer. The socket utilized is determined by the process being used, and is controlled by an Active Server Page.

Once a customer enters a model number on the Parts Ordering page of 'Panasonic Online' the WinNT 4.0 Oracle Application Server queries a 1.2 million record cross-reference file to return to the Browser all the parts associated with the specific model entered (i.e. a Panasonic CamCorder has 987 parts). The customer then selects one or more parts which are added to their electronic shopping basket. During this interactive process, the customer may add or delete any part from the shopping basket.

Customers have the ability to perform a real-time check on availability at any time. To accomplish this, the contents of the shopping basket are passed through the MitemWeb application to determine their status. "This process was critical" said Larry Mason, Manager - Systems Support Services. "It was important that our customers could check parts availability immediately rather than to wait until the end of the process. We needed quick and accurate access to the inventory data in real-time". The inventory system determines whether a part is; available, has a new replacement, or is backordered. At that point, an HTML table is created and passed back to the Browser with final parts information including substitutions and the expected time of arrival of any back-ordered parts. Once the part selection process is complete, the customer enters shipping and credit card information which is passed through MitemWeb using a Secure Socket Layer to verify zip code consistency with the city and state entered. The security layer also ensures that all credit card information is properly encrypted. All parts & accessories are totalled and one final check of the mainframe, for quantity available, is performed before committing the transaction. All appropriate sales taxes are calculated, based on the city, state and zip, and then added to the final order. Simultaneously, a credit card verification is processed via a connection to First USA Bank. If the credit card is accepted, an invoice is generated (in HTML format) and the invoice total, including shipping, is sent to the Browser with an eMail address and an 800 number for questions or comments.

At the point of shipment, the distribution centre sends a message back to the IBM mainframe, over the WAN, and a settlement record is created and batched to First USA Bank. The funds are then electronically transferred the following day.

Results

Panasonic, Technics & Quasar customers are now able to purchase parts & accessories online, in real-time. "We could not have completed this application in such a short period of time without using MitemView. We are seeing a weekly increase in use as customers have become aware of the technology and are taking advantage of it." said Charles Alexander.

"There have been two instances where, because of changes to the mainframe, we had to make changes to the [MitemView] resource file. In the first instance, the system sent an email message with a `SnapShot' of what we had missed. Within 15-20 minutes, the fix was made, and we were up and running. In the second instance, Panasonic changed the navigation of the mainframe application. Within 4 hours, I was able to put everything in place so that when the turnover happened, MitemView was up and running again without incident."
Charles Alexander
Developer, Panasonic Services Company

"Panasonic spent years developing an efficient order processing system. Accessing that data reliably, and with high performance, was critical - MitemView made that possible.
Peter Schepis
Manager, Panasonic Services Company



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