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Speedy delivery

China Courier Service Corporation gets a boost with active data warehousing.

by Liu Hong

China Courier Service Corporation (CCSC) is a wholly owned subsidiary of the State Post Bureau, which mainly operates domestic and international Express Mail Services (EMS). It is the first and the largest provider of express service in China. The company employs more than 20,000 professional courier staff and reaches more than 200 countries and regions as well as approximately 2,000 cities in China.

Since it began operations in 1980, the volume and variety of EMS offerings have grown while the quality of service has also increased. In addition to courier services at home and abroad, the company has successively introduced new high-end products and value-added services including domestic next-day delivery, next-morning delivery, international guarantee service, time-certain delivery and collection on delivery service.

The company boasts leading information processing capabilities with information platforms established in more than 300 key cities nationwide. The track-and-trace system is connected with the Universal Postal Union (UPU) system, which facilitates global tracking and tracing for EMS. The company now has a three-in-one real-time track-and-trace system including its own Web site, short message code and call center number.

Speedy Delivery
Liu Hong, senior engineer, information technology division of China Postal Group, recognized the importance of high performance, high standards and centralized control in the development of the new track-and-trace processing platform at CCSC.

Fierce competition and healthy business growth for EMS highlighted the company's underdeveloped IT infrastructure and outdated first- and second-generation track-and-trace technologies. As a result, CCSC decided to build a third-generation integrated track-and-trace processing platform. Essential to the new platform were high performance, high standards, centralized control, use of a realistic and flexible application, and an emphasis on a real-time track-and-trace system.

Selection of Teradata as a partner
CCSC required statistical analysis of each mail delivery procedure to improve management. Yet few data warehouse solutions could enable real-time data updates together with complex statistical analysis. As a result, the second generation of the track-and-trace system was built by combining two physical devices to meet CCSC's requirements. Nevertheless, the separation of physical platforms resulted in frequent inconsistencies between the data of the two systems.

In view of Teradata's outstanding performance in developing China Post's name and address system, and after extensive investigation, CCSC decided to build its courier service information system on Teradata. Additionally, CCSC chose to implement an active data warehouse solution to build its new-generation track-and-trace solution.

CCSC and Teradata agreed that the major obstacles in building the system were in the timeliness of data loading together with the complexity of the data sources and management of various data warehouse tasks. To meet this challenge, Teradata adopted a new design, different from previous real-time data warehouse solutions in terms of system architecture, data loading strategies and mixed workload management, by using concepts and methods intended for a business operating system.

SYSTEM ARCHITECTURE OF THE DATA WAREHOUSE
The software architecture of the data warehouse system is divided into three layers, as shown in the figure below:
1 Data loading collects data from various source systems and loads it into the data warehouse. The data comes from the courier production and operation systems, branch systems and net-transportation system, involving more than 50 kinds of data categorized into six subjects. According to the flow of the process, the data may fall into two categories: real-time and batch data.
2 Data warehouse consists of multi-layer and multi-purpose logical data warehouses in a physical data warehouse. Because of the uniqueness of the active track-and-trace application, the data warehouse layer of the integrated information processing platform adds an area that realizes real-time data loading and access. This is in addition to a temporary data area, a central data warehouse and data staging area that are always included in a traditional data warehouse. Also, the index technologies, data synchronization mechanism and active data backup strategy are taken into account in the design of the active data warehouse.
3 Application includes real-time and non-real-time data warehouse accessing mechanisms to realize the active track-and-trace application, the same as the data warehouse layer. For the non-real-time data accessing mechanism, the data warehouse will have the data analyzed and ready beforehand in an off-line data analysis file for users. In addition to real-time active mail status tracking, the real-time data accessing mechanism also covers real-time and active data statistical and analytical functions, enabling users to access the data warehouse online.

Figure: CCSC data warehouse architecture
enlarge
The software architecture for the data warehouse is divided into data loading, data warehouse and application layers.

In terms of the overall software architecture, the active data warehouse is made up of two parts—traditional data warehouse applications and real-time data processing applications similar to the business system.

Data loading strategies
Every piece of express mail must go through a number of procedures from the initial collection to final delivery. At each stage, data comes from various source systems. International mail also requires that the data of transportation, delivery and information from the UPU system are received. Therefore, the most urgent technology issue was how to load data from a variety of sources within 10 minutes of a transaction.

To deal with complex data sources and to ensure timely data loading, the enterprise service bus serves as a platform for service exchanges between different systems. The architecture ensures data exchange timeliness while maintaining data transfer reliability.

Teradata's two data loading strategies—mini-batch and continuous load—enable real-time data loading. Normally, the continuous load is used while mini-batch is adopted as a backup strategy when the system needs to be closed for maintenance or in the event of a breakdown.

In an integrated system that includes real-time loading, tactical query and batch reports, CCSC needed to affirm that system resources were accurately allocated to ensure that the demands of different applications could be satisfied at different stages. With Teradata, CCSC was able to realize accurate resource allocation for its three major loading requirements based on active workload management functions.

At five different loading stages, the track-and-trace system adopts various resource allocation strategies. For instance, from 8 a.m. to noon when query requests are numerous, more system resources are allocated to ensure that all can be processed within five seconds. From 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. when background data gathering takes place and front-office query requests are few, more system resources are allocated to background data gathering to ensure its timely completion.

Status: delivered
Since the track-and-trace system began its operation EMS has witnessed an ongoing increase in business. The system now loads nearly 6 million data records per day with the number of query requests increasing from 360,000 per day to almost 600,000 per day. At peak times, the number of queries can reach nearly 70,000 per hour. Usually, the system can reflect the latest mail status changes within five minutes of the completion of a transaction. With a portable wireless terminal, the processing time can be reduced to as short as three seconds.

The CCSC network

CCSC's infrastructure includes a first-class air and road transportation network. With the help of China Postal Airlines, the company has also established an "overnight flight" distribution network with Shanghai as the hub. The extensive EMS network includes:
> 20,000 specialized collection and delivery vehicles
> Next-day and next-morning delivery in more than 300 cities in China
> 200 developed mail processing centers nationwide, including large facilities in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou

In terms of its functions, the track-and-trace system has realized a variety of goals, including offering the latest mail delivery status within minutes of a business transaction, screening inaccurate and unreasonable information as well as differentiating internal and external query feedback.

The system can also aid the internal users in conducting operational analysis and decisions. The Teradata active data warehouse solution supports strategic decision making while also enabling front-line staff to make tactical decisions.

Enhanced performance
On May 19, 2007, the data warehouse of CCSC was expanded with a 6-node Teradata 5450 Server and an 18TB disk array, enhancing the processing performance.

The successful operation of the system has had a profound influence on improving customer satisfaction and the business capabilities of CCSC management.

Li Pizheng, the director general of the Information Technology division of China Postal Group, says, "The integrated information processing platform not only supports production, operations and management decision making, but also enhances the quality of our courier services, its core competitiveness and the EMS brand. Besides, great social and economic benefits have also been obtained."

Gao Jun, the deputy director general of the Information Technology Division of the China Postal Group, adds, "The operation of [the] integrated information processing platform with an active real-time tracking function and the launch of the new EMS portal signify the important achievements in driving [information for competitive advantage], which is of great significance to enhancing our courier services brand and maintaining its sound development momentum." T

Results

The system successfully began operations on June 30, 2006, providing external services of real-time mail status tracking and business data analysis. The system provides:
> Improved consistency of query results. Because the new track-and-trace system is established on a unified data warehouse platform, all queries are based on the same tracking system and the same data sources to avoid inconsistency in query results.
> Enhanced data query timeliness. The speed of data queries has been greatly accelerated. Formerly the mail status was reflected by data message uploads three times a day. Upon the completion of the subsystem of production and operation, the information of every package can be uploaded immediately after the transaction.
> Enriched query services. The new track-and-trace system built on the data warehouse covers comprehensive and detailed mail processing information that can be checked by both courier staff and public users. The data that the real-time active track-and-trace system extracts from various sources reflects the whole mail-processing status.
> Improved customer service. VIP mail status query service provides enhanced services for VIP customers.
> Enhanced operating supervision and control. The new system is characterized by complete time-limit supervision as well as the supervision of timely delivery failure, information quality and regulating rate.
> Strengthened operating management. Via the data warehouse, the courier service is enhanced through a variety of powerful functions such as comprehensive statistics and analysis, price management and auditing, accounts and accounting, customer relationship management and decision making concerning operating management.

Additionally, the Teradata data warehouse offers a combination of analysis functions. Performance index analysis is intended for the senior management with direct visual presentation of production and operation index of the enterprise. The multi-dimensional analysis function enables a simplified data analysis from various angles. In this way, the services, operating management and decision making are greatly supported and strengthened.

Behind the solution: China Courier Service Corporation
Database: Teradata Database V2R6.1
Server: 6-node Teradata 5450 Server
DBAs: 5
Operating System: Windows
Storage: 18TB
Teradata Utilities: MultiLoad, TPump, Priority Scheduler, Teradata Workload Manager, DBQL
Tools/Applications: Teradata Warehouse Miner and products from Tibco

Liu Hong, senior engineer, information technology division of China Postal Group, successfully led the development and construction of the new generation of integrated information processing platform for China Post's courier services in the project manager role.

Teradata Magazine-December 2007

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