In this article I am going to talk about Infor M3 Enterprise Collaborator (MEC), an integration platform that has survived for over 15 years and is still as relevant as ever.
It all started at a Swedish software company called Intentia R&D around the turn of the century. As you might remember, this was just about the time when business’ were starting to see the benefits of Internet for more than just static web pages.
At the time I was part of the e-Business team, and it was an exciting period with many new products in the pipeline, such as webshops, e-procurement, web portals and of course M3 Enterprise Collaborator, or Movex e-Collaborator as it was called then.
Our mission was, taken from the original marketing presentation, “to create a solution that enables business-to-business (B2B) e-collaboration in terms of both intra-enterprise and inter-enterprise through Application-to-Application (A2A) integration.
We needed something that were flexible enough to both support traditional EDI based B2B transactions, but would also be able to handle XML (eXtensible Markup Language), which was the new document format that everyone was talking about. A separate project was launched to develop business documents for different business processes and these where initially called MBD (Movex Business Documents), but later renamed MBM (Movex Business Message). The rumour was that MBD abbreviation had the unfortunate association with “Minor Brain Damage”, but I’m not sure if that was true or not.
The MBM documents where initially meant to be generic business documents, based on an open standard such as OAG or RosettaNet, since these were thought to gradually replace traditional text based EDI files. However, later they became based on traditional EDI in an XML format, since it appeared EDI was going to stick around for a while. Interestingly the recently launched BOD’s (Business Object Documents) are back on track with Business Process oriented documents, so perhaps we were just ahead of our time?
Although the original MEC was limited in functionality, most of the components were still the same as they are today. There was a Partner Admin tool, a Mapper and of course the runtime server. The server was running in a command window and not as a service, so someone had to always be logged in and he or she better not close that window.
The Flatfile conversion tool was the only part missing, but the functionality was still there. However, you had to manually define the XML files for each XML to flat translation.
I think it is important to understand what MEC is and what it isn’t. The most common argument is that it is overly complicated and time consuming and that if you are a programmer you could easily write code to connect to any of the available Interfaces directly. However, I think that then you are missing the point. MEC is more than just an IDE for developing an interface.
It is the sum of its parts that makes it so powerful, and if you wanted to add the same functionality in your custom interface, you would essentially need to build another MEC.
I’m going to list some of the benefits of MEC to a custom interface and I am expecting to get some comments in line with “you can do that with a custom interface too”, but be aware that MEC is meant to be maintained by business people, not programmers, so if it is not intuitive it is not an option.
- Graphical mapper IDE in Eclipse, with a palette of drag-and-drop functions, such as all the available APIs (Application Programming Interface).
- Full version control and simple process to switch between different versions of an interface (also referred to as a maps). Unlimited flexibility, since user-defined java-functions can be created within your maps.
- Re-usable maps, which are independent of M3 ERP version and can be imported/Exported to multiple environments.
- Complete Administration, Maintenance and Monitoring platform, where the status and content of each transaction can be easily viewed and appropriate action taken if necessary.
- A Partner Agreement tool that allows you to define specific workflows and communication requirements for individual partners. It also helps you organize and group all your different integrations in a logical manner.
- A full set of predefined process steps at your fingertips, including but not limited to ION integration, a Document Asset Management integration, XSL transformations as well as multiple communication protocols for receiving and sending.
- Already used successfully by a large customer base and developed over 15 years for stable and secure High-Availability, High-Performance and High-Throughput.
The list could go on, but I think the benefits above is enough to expected MEC to be here for some time to come.
Hope you enjoyed reading this article and please feel free to comment or contact me if you have any questions.