By Michael Fitzgerald  |  Posted 05-05-2005 Print Email

D-Day Internal politics wasn't the only issue. There were also serious technical concerns about whether Web services would work at all, given the immaturity of the technology being offered by vendors. "It'll never work," says Sackman. "That was the first reaction I had." But after months of reassurance by Bongiorno, Sackman came around. "Now, it feels like it's pretty straightforward."

Bongiorno loves to crack wise and shoot straight—at one point he says, "Look, you guys will take [this project] in the magazine and call it 'Web services' and make it sound real sexy. But it's not." His matter-of-factness makes him a natural-born technology salesman. He knew at ADP that he had to make the project sound simpler than it was in order to get internal buy-in. Luckily he had an ace in Hrelic, who had worked on elements of IBM's Web services strategy. "I knew what was real and what was not," Hrelic says. So Bongiorno put together a Web services presentation, and started peddling a vision inside IT and out.

Though he pitched it to ADP executives as a slam dunk, Bongiorno knew just how daunting the integration project would be. In fact, it was clear to him at the first CTO council he convened, in March of 2003 (just five months after he joined the company), that moving to Web services at ADP was considered an insurmountable problem.

So Bongiorno scheduled a meeting with top corporate brass (displaying his flair for the dramatic, he scheduled the meeting on June 6, D-Day). The meeting garnered at least one high-level backer for an integration project—Gary Butler, the company president who was also acting head of Employer Services. Butler felt that integrating its products was a strategic imperative for ADP, and he put his management muscle behind Bongiorno, which made it easier for Bongiorno to set development priorities for the divisions. "If you go to Gary Butler or Art [Weinbach, chairman and CEO of ADP], and you ask what are the three most important things in Employer Services, this integration portal effort will be one of them," says Sackman. So Bongiorno killed all other existing Web services projects and shifted resources into the effort he had started.

Bongiorno and Hrelic broke down the move to a services-oriented architecture into manageable projects: a wrapper, or interface layer; single-sign-on capability for users who worked with multiple systems; a common look and feel; a common reporting tool; and a messaging engine to handle data transfer.

Company Profile
Company | Automatic Data Processing Inc.

Corporate Headquarters | Roseland, N.J.

CIO | Bob Bongiorno (CIO of Employer Services)

Revenues | $8.28 billion (trailing 12 months)

Net Income | $1 billion (TTM)

Stock Price | $43.44 (April 29, 2005)

52 week high-low | $47.31–$38.60

"When you break the problem down, each of those are very solvable problems," he says. The reporting tool was adapted from one developed at ADP Brazil, and the single sign-on and authentication from Sun Microsystems Inc.'s version of the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) and Netegrity Inc.'s SiteMinder (now merged with Computer Associates International Inc.).

Final approval for the project came in October of 2003. What followed were six months of intense discussion and review of standards, including strong debates over details as minute as what a button should look like on the screen. ("It looked like a Tylenol pill and some people didn't like that," Bongiorno says. "We had a lot of discussion over things like that.") These issues were brought before the CTO council, which became the vehicle for hashing out the standards and setting development priorities. It took about six months to develop an architecture that all the divisions could agree on. In March of 2004, it finally got underway.

The first project was the most obvious: creating a portal environment to give a common user interface for ADP's products. As each service gains Web services technology, it will be added to the portal.

The portal environment was the obvious first step for several reasons, says Hrelic. "It was the biggest issue clients had—as we were rolling out self-service components to our systems, clients kept saying they were too burdensome for users, with too many ways of navigating, or multiple passwords."

The new user interface will give ADP clients the ability to switch between products without having to log into a different system, and without needing to remember an entirely different way of using each system. It will also give them more control over how the system looks, where their branding appears and how data is accessed.

The new UI will also help those clients that use only one ADP product. There are three access levels for each portal: a manager level, an administrator level and an employee level. The new user interface provides a uniform way to use the system across levels. It also makes it much easier for end-users to learn the system—a big help, as many companies shift to letting employees service their own accounts.

Finally, the Web services architecture should help the company digest acquisitions more effectively. "Every time you add a new acquisition, you acquire a new technology," Hrelic says. The services- oriented architecture means that ADP can keep each acquisition's systems in place, open up the pieces that need to work with outside systems, and add another tab to its portal interface.

ADP rolled out the first Web-enabled portlets in September 2004. The key applications were the Pay eXpert payroll product, HR eXpert, Enterprise HR, iPayStatements, FSA (Flexible Spending Accounts) and USS (Unified Self Service). In March 2005 ADP added more transactions and functionality to the products, and the cycle of new development efforts is accelerating.

Service-Oriented Architecture: A Field Guide to Integrating XML and Web Services
By Thomas Erl Prentice Hall PTR, 2004

Web Services and Service-Oriented Architecture: The Savvy Manager's Guide
By Douglas K. Barry Morgan Kaufmann, 2003

It helped sell the initiative internally that Bongiorno didn't ask for more money for the project. For one thing, ADP saved money by reusing entire processes. Bongiorno estimates that he can reuse a minimum of 70 percent of his code, so every time ADP builds a new product offering, it's likely to already have a reporting tool. In the past, that would have been built each time it was needed. Now, Bongiorno's group just uses what was built for another product.

Bongiorno warns that it won't be that easy for every company to copy what he's done. Web services fits ADP's business model extremely well. Things such as reporting tools are common across ADP products, and there's little need to rewrite such a tool for new products. "Web services is a perfect fit for what we do," says Bongiorno. "I could not go back to United Airlines and reuse code like I do here."

But cost-savings is not the reason ADP went to Web services. The company wants to boost its business and, especially, to get those 475,000 ES customers to add other ADP services.

One of those customers, Vanessa Cline, a project manager at Royal & SunAlliance USA, an insurance firm based in Charlotte, N.C., says the advantage of the portal is simple: It takes the human resources department out of most employee HR dealings. Employees "can take charge of transactions that were typically in the hands of our HR community. It eliminates the need for the middleman."

ADP is also using Web services to let it integrate human resources and payroll processing into SAP's Business One portal, in addition to its own portal. Over time, ADP wants to use Web services standards to let customers use other non-ADP applications from its portal as well. So if a client uses a stock-option management program from a Wall Street firm, that application could be accessed via ADP's portal.

Like the still-emerging field of Web services itself, ADP is just beginning to see the technology's impact. It's likely to be substantial, since, when finished, it will provide the foundation for a potentially radical remaking of the company's business model. But that will take years, and depend on factors still being worked out, such as how well ADP can shift its marketing and sales structure to reflect the new Web services package. In that sense, ADP is the rare example of a company using Web services to drive change throughout the entire enterprise.

Michael Fitzgerald is a business and technology freelance writer based in Massachusetts.


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