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Oakwood Worldwide strikes a perfect balance with data integration

A new data integration platform enables new tools, such as real-time BI, to coexist with old tools, including a legacy mainframe.

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Migrating off a legacy mainframe can be a tricky high wire act, especially when you have 200 offices worldwide, integrated client systems and, of course, a business to run.

Oakwood Worldwide has found the perfect balance with a data integration platform that enables it to slowly migrate away from a legacy mainframe system while incrementally rolling out new applications. With the new platform in place, Oakwood can put in new tools like real-time  business intelligence (BI) and dashboards, while bi-directionally sharing data with its legacy system. It's become a critical part of the business.

The Los Angeles-based global corporate housing and property management firm has been operating since 1962, renting temporary furnished apartments to corporate businesspeople, actors and individuals. Oakwood's business model requires key relationships worldwide with landlords, real estate agents and service providers, and as the business has grown, so have its data management needs. The legacy system still serves its purpose of managing billing and tenant information, but users have demanded more.

Oakwood's managers and salespeople wanted more visibility into available housing and business metrics. Corporate customers demanded more information, integrated tools and faster response times. And Oakwood recognized that new technology like BI and mobile applications could make it savvier in its approach to the growing market.

Vinnie Le, vice president of information systems (IS), knew that change needed to happen incrementally to minimize disruption and maintain Oakwood's reputation for service.

"We chose a non-intrusive migration approach … we've built new systems while maintaining our old systems," Le explained. Rather than update the mainframe, when the company needs new functionality, IS adds a new application and integrates it with required data in the legacy system.

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 When this long-term migration process started a few years ago, the IS group manually managed data synchronization, Le explained. As tools like Siebel CRM came online, the department used an extract, transform and load (ETL) tool and customized processes to share necessary data between the new application and the legacy system. That was a time-consuming process, requiring significant employee effort to work properly. So, Oakwood began searching for a data integration system.

After evaluating two or three providers, the company settled on Redwood City, Calif.-based Informatica Corp. and its PowerCenter data integration platform. Oakwood chose the system because of its breadth of functionality and because it would support the company's BI initiatives, Le said. Now Oakwood uses PowerCenter with the PowerExchange mainframe access software to share data between legacy systems and newer applications such as CRM, integrated corporate client systems, inventory management systems and other custom-developed tools.

"It's important to have Informatica in place because it provides us not only the ability to replicate our data, but also the ability to provide real-time information between systems," Le explained. The platform enables better working relationships between internal users and corporate clients, many of which have integrated systems, Le added.

Realizing the benefits of data integration

Oakwood's business users have been happy with the changes so far, and are especially excited about the new BI capabilities enabled by the data integration platform, Le said. The company has implemented BI using a custom developed system based on a Microsoft SQL data warehouse and the Informatica tool.

The new dashboards have been a major hit, currently available to regional managers and soon to the sales team and other operational groups, Le said. Now managers can look to dashboards to see housing inventory and demand, by unit type, by region, by property and by client. These managers can also see what type of housing customers are requesting in different regions and can use real-time and historical data to forecast business and evaluate key metrics, like reservation requests versus actual reservations. And that's only the beginning, Le said.

Eventually, mobile applications will more closely link Oakwood's systems with its global network of partners, customers and providers, Le said. For example, when a housing request comes into the call center, it could trigger an alert to real estate agents in the requested region, delivered on a computer or mobile device. The agent could then immediately set to work finding the appropriate property. This type of setup could enable a faster response time to clients and could drive key business efficiencies.

The possibilities for using technology within Oakwood's global business are vast, Le said. More importantly, with the new data integration capabilities, the company can prioritize technology needs and strategically migrate to new applications as needed.

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