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Monday, February 9, 2009

Fiat Chooses PHP and Zend to build and web-enable their Fiatlink system


Fiat Group SpA is a diversified global company in business for over a century and is one of the top fifteen automobile manufacturers in the world, even larger than Daimler AG. Producing more than 85% of the automobiles that the Fiat Group manufactures and sells, the Fiat Group Automobiles SpA (FGA) subsidiary produces about 1.98 million automobiles/year. Over 42,000 Fiat users channel over $30 Billion (USD) in revenue (24 billion euros) through their PHP-based Fiatlink system which is now the primary access point for all of FGA's dealers and service centers to enter car orders and access information across the Fiat Auto enterprise. This is business-critical PHP.

Improving sales performance and customer relations by exploiting back-end and point-of-use technology in the sales, service, and support processes they engage in was the goal for Fiat. Fiatlink addresses both sales and after sales that FGA processes, and currently handles 100% of the ordering and logistics and 65% (being rapidly built-out to 90%) of the vehicle customization & customer offers process, including essentially all CRM functions for Fiat, and will be completely rolled out to all of their markets in Europe in 2008.

Originally slated to address just car ordering processes (customization of cars, ordering parts, etc.), Fiatlink is now used to additionally handle all dealer and FGA related processes from logistics to sales leads management, offering an integrated platform for all sales and post-sales processes.
The Challenge

Fiat’s sales & customer support systems were not as up-to-date as Fiat innovation policies mandated, were spread across several disparate solutions, and there was no one place that all Fiat dealers and service centers could go to manage all the daily activities that are necessary for communication between FGA’s central headquarters and dealer services. Also, the previous system was built upon a traditional client-server model which meant long activation times, physical infrastructure maintenance problems, and very difficult to use user interfaces. This represented a significant drag on potential revenue opportunities for Fiat. They needed a way to rapidly develop and deliver new and enhanced functionality to their dealers. PHP was an ideal solution for this.

“At the beginning we also considered Java as a development solution & language” says Roberto Fileni, Fiatlink’s Technical Architect, “but the main project goals were quick implementation and the PHP learning curve is much easier than with Java. In addition, Fiat Group’s IT division has a solid open-source technologies background. That also helped drive the choice for PHP.”
The Business Case: Integrate 15 Disparate Applications into SSO Portal

Fiat has integrated more than 15 different applications using PHP as the ‘glue’ to provide a responsive and integrated single-sign-on (SSO) portal for their 42,000 users to access myriad systems (B2C) in the Fiat Group Automobiles SpA enterprise. These include: logistics/planning systems, business management, training, CSI, post-sales support, warranties, marketing programs, CRM, and financing systems, both directly and in an integrated process environment.

Because of the fast delivery that a PHP-based solution could provide to their Fiatlink users, Fiatlink is quickly becoming the primary way that all users interact with Fiat’s applications, worldwide.

Fiat began with a LAMP-based prototype, but with the requirement that this needed to quickly be transformed into a production-ready business engineered solution. Porting to Oracle quickly after prototyping was another requirement. PHP fit their needs exactly. They are now building all of their code using web application “design pattern” standards like MVC, easy to do in PHP 5 where object-orientation is fully supported by the language and is now an industry standard practice for PHP.
“When we performed a detailed analysis and were able to outline it in detail, we saw how widespread & diverse our user network of dealers and technical/service support users were, and that we needed to constantly adapt to, change, and create new and added features and functionality,” said Calì. “That’s the primary reason why we chose a PHP-based technology stack; PHP is a well-known language for building web-delivered solutions with versatility and reliability and that allows us to scale and build-out new functionality in a fraction of the time it would take us with other solutions.”
-- Nunzio Calì,
IT Director,
Fiat Group Automobiles SpA
The Bottom Line: Money & Time Saved Using Zend
One of the key savings that Fiat Group Automobiles SpA made by using Zend’s web application server was the ability to save two (2) person-years worth of tested and already running Java business logic. Rewriting that code, not to mention testing and deploying it into a running application was untenable. Instead, by using Zend Platform, the Zend web application server, and the functionality it contains called Zend Java Bridge, Fiat was able to deploy their already tested and written Java business logic without needing to run an additional expensive WebSphere application server. This resulted in less moving parts to worry about, adminstrate, test, fix in production settings, and meant they also didn’t need to rewrite already running, tested code. Two person-years of code, plus testing, deployment, and administrative overhead: Estimated savings: €300,000 (USD ~ $450,000).

Conclusion: PHP is ready for business-critical solutions
PHP is an ideal solution for large, modern enterprises looking to rapidly deploy new and added functionality for their users. Adopting an open-source solution like PHP strategically knowing that in addition to the vibrant open-source community, Zend Technologies is also standing behind the platform provides peace-of-mind when utilizing open-source technology with lower TCO. Supporting tools like the Zend Studio IDE, the Zend application server and more, plus global services consulting and training from Zend's professional services experts all add up to make PHP more than ready for enterprise solutions.

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