Rich Web applications support a business case in the SOA adoption era

Rich Internet Applications (RIA) combine the flexibility and ease of use of an intelligent desktop application with the broad reach of traditional Web applications. RIAs allow users to create personalized, multimedia-rich applications. Users also can tap into RIAs to create interactive data dashboards, self-service applications, and online product configurators.

11/01/2007


Rich Internet Applications (RIA) combine the flexibility and ease of use of an intelligent desktop application with the broad reach of traditional Web applications. RIAs allow users to create personalized, multimedia-rich applications. Users also can tap into RIAs to create interactive data dashboards, self-service applications, and online product configurators.

According to a report published by London-based Butler GroupRich Web Applications: The business benefits of Web-enabled applications development —as organizations roll out service-oriented architecture (SOA), they will turn to Rich Internet and Web Applications for the final link, which is the human-machine interface.

Butler Group notes that RIAs—called Rich Web Applications (RWA) in Europe—offer the reach of the Internet, the convenience of the Web browser for deployment, and rich behavior similar to desktop applications. According to Butler's report, given increasing benefits and resulting popularity of RIA/RWA, businesses need to devise a Web strategy, and the integration of RIA/RWA needs to be part of the consideration.

Adil Wali, managing director of Pittsburgh-based Rich Applications Consulting , an Internet applications consulting firm, sees multiple opportunities for RIA in manufacturing.

“RIAs provide business insight and analytics,” says Wali. “Their real-time ability has particular value in manufacturing. For example, [the applications] allow vendors and customers to work more collaboratively.” And since RIA integrates with multiple businesses on the same platform, vendors and customers can use the same interface to communicate with one another and pass data back and forth in real time.

The key to successful RIA deployments in a manufacturing environment, according to Wali, is to build the applications into the workflow.

“The least useful applications I've seen are those that require the user to do something outside of the typical workflow,” he notes. “In such instances, the user usually won't even bother with it.”




Adobe Flex links into fresh master data from multiple systems, tapping live data from back-end systems, initiating a process, and sending out interactive PDF-based forms that become key information deliverables.

Ease of access is another way to build usage. For example, Adobe 's AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime, formerly Adobe Apollo), which is built around Adobe Flex, allows applications to be embedded in desktops, so users don't have to open a browser. “Mobile functionality [also is found] in a lot of these applications, so users [obtain access] from cell phones and hand-held devices,” he adds.

Adobe Flex, one of the most popular RIA tools, can link into fresh master data from multiple systems. It taps into live data from back-end systems, initiates a process, and sends out interactive PDF-based forms that become key information deliverables.

Flex can establish a real-time interactive process so that design and manufacturing engineers, as well as workers, can easily add and modify information during production. It also can include 3D representations from CAD and product life-cycle management systems to help workers understand the creator's intent. Finally, it can automate and manage the extended process, including reviews and approvals across teams and geographies.

SMC Corporation of America , an Indianapolis-based manufacturer of pneumatic automation, is reporting success with RIA. When Steve Hoffer was an engineer with SMC, he realized customers needed access to CAD files.

“At the time, we were assembling engineered drawing solutions from a template,” explains Hoffer, now engineering support manager for SMC. “We didn't provide 3D CAD models or WYSIWYG solutions.”

SMC created a special group tasked with using the Internet as an application tool. With the help of developer TechniCon , SMC selected Adobe's ColdFusion, which SMC uses as a middle layer between its back-end database system—where product information is stored—and the front end, a Web-based user interface, which involves a CAD modeling tool. ColdFusion automates the design process by pulling information from the database and delivering an accurate 3D model to the front end for CAD modeling.

“The technology allows users to configure a part number and then download a CAD file for that number,” explains Hoffer. “They can rotate and review a CAD model without installing any CAD software on their computer.”

The technology is being used by more than 50,000 SMC customers a month. “They appreciate being able to get CAD files to include in their designs,” says Hoffer.






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