To be successful today, businesses need to be more than mere warehouses of products, storefronts for merchandise, or headquarters for providers of services. Businesses in the twenty-first century need to be information hubs. A retailer integrates information from suppliers, customers’ and employees’ behavior, and possibly other locations in the same chain of stores. A healthcare company integrates information from medical supply manufacturers and retailers, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and regulatory agencies. Pick any industry and you’ll see the same phenomenon—no business is an island. The challenge for every business is to find the best ways to record and manage the information passing along all these disparate channels so that it can be consumed, used to improve decision-making, and passed on to the next hub as efficiently as possible.
Microsoft BizTalk Server is an application integration platform. To get an idea how it works, imagine a screen divided into three parts. In the middle part is a grid whose fields contain bits of information about a patient in a hospital. To one side of this grid, the items on a government form are listed in order along a vertical column. On the other side of the grid is another column, this one of items on a form for an insurance company. What a BizTalk developer can do is draw a line connecting the item in its location on each column to the corresponding data point on the grid in the middle. Now BizTalk can take either one of the forms and, without anyone having to re-enter any of the data, use it to fill out the other form. In other words, BizTalk adapts the information from one source to the format required for another location.
BizTalk comes equipped with schemas for over 8,000 industry-standard forms. But adapting forms is only one of the ways it integrates applications. Any business that has to coordinate the activity of various departments based on information from different types of input can benefit from this tool. It also has enormous time- and energy-saving potential for any business that relies on coordination between several different external partners.
What is an Enterprise Service Bus?
Microsoft calls BizTalk an Enterprise Service Bus, a phrase that takes some recognizable terms and uses them in a way that’s odd for most people. In computer geek parlance, a service is a program that communicates with other programs. A bus in this context is a program that transforms messages traveling back and forth between services into all-purpose outputs. The idea is that programs are designed to communicate with certain other programs. But if you want them to communicate with a bunch of other programs you need some type of adapter.
You can think of the programs as speakers of different languages. They communicate just fine with other speakers of the same language, but for their messages to be understood by anyone else they need to be translated. BizTalk is basically a platform where a crowd of multilingual people congregates. Instead of sending a message from one application that speaks Chinese to another that speaks French, you send the message to BizTalk, which translates everything into Chinese for the Chinese-speaking application and French for the French-speaking one. BizTalk then sends the message along to the recipients in the language they understand best.
How much time do you or your employees spend filling out forms, or transferring information from one location to another? How much time do you spend dealing with obstacles to communication in your supply chain, or between your business’s different locations? BizTalk can work in so many business contexts that we can’t even begin to touch on all of them in a brief post. If you’d like to know more about BizTalk and how it might help in your specific circumstances, you can talk to our BI and BizTalk experts by contacting us through our website.