BT's specialist retail e-commerce division, BT Fresca, is using a data integration solution from open source software vendor Talend to maximise back office integration for its clients and enable them to manage their data more efficiently.

BT Fresca delivers e-commerce platforms for some of the world's most successful retail websites, such as Oasis, Primark, New Look, JJB and WH Smiths.

In the past, BT Fresca integrated with its retail clients by asking them to develop their systems to meet standard XML formats. These formats were then used to exchange product information, price information, inventory information and orders.

This method was successful for a long time, but recently the company found that it was facing more complex integration challenges, and some of its clients did not have the in-house skills to develop their systems to meet BT Fresca's particular formats.

A particularly complex integration project with an international women’s clothing brand provided the trigger for the company to begin looking for a specialist integration tool that could help it overcome these challenges.

“We didn't see any value in developing that kind of functionality ourselves,” said Jonathan Bowen, head of product strategy at BT Fresca.

“There's so many good integration platforms on the market, to try and reinvent that wheel didn't seem the sensible thing to do. So the decision was made to go out, review a number of platforms on the market and utilise one of those within the business.”

The company looked at a number of platforms, including Talend, Jaspersoft and Microsoft BizTalk. In the end, the decision to adopt Talend was based largely on the fact that Talend is Java-based, and BT Fresca is a Java house, so it was immediately a good match.

Talend's software could also be hosted on BT Fresca's own servers, whereas using Microsoft BizTalk would have meant buying Microsoft servers, as well as Microsoft resource to do the management and development.

It also required no training, because there is a strong open source community around the Talend integration product, and all the documentation, tutorials and videos are available on online forums.

“I'm not a developer by trade, and I found the Talend tool to be really productive. There's obviously a certain amount of technical knowledge you might need to have to use it, but you don't have to be a hardcore Java developer or anything like that,” said Bowen.

“We could get integration jobs up and running very quickly and know that they were going to work as we expected.”

The first project with the women's fashion brand involved integrating with four different instances of the retailer's ERP system, as well as with third parties for translation services, and other parties for fulfilment services.

“Whilst each individual integration wasn't that complex, it was the volume and the number of systems involved that added to the complexity,” said Bowen.

BT Fresca started the project about 2 years ago. The initial round took three or four months worth of development, and it has since extended from there. The company now uses Talend across half of its clients and plans to migrate the rest over the next 12-18 months.

Integrations were previously carried out by the application development team, but BT Fresca has now carved out a specific integration team, who are dedicated to developing integrations using the Talend suite.

The company also now licenses the enterprise version of Talend, which means it charges clients for developments they want to do on the platform. Bowen said that for the size of retailer that BT Fresca serves, Talends pricing model is a good fit.

Although BT Fresca's initial focus was on finding a data integration solution, the company is now exploring the possibility of using some of the other tools available in Talend's product suite, such as the Master Data Management (MDM) tool and, over time, the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) products.

“We don't have to bite it off in one go, we can start with integration and license their services just for that, but we can also upscale as we need to,” concluded Bowen.