Succeeding in integration: Web services

Page II: The use of Web services as an integration technology is starting to pick up speed. We asked four local organisations about their Web services integration projects.

Page II: The use of Web services as an integration technology is starting to pick up speed. We asked four local organisations about their Web services integration projects.

Distributed Systems Technology Centre
The Distributed Systems Technology Centre (DSTC) is a national R&D centre focusing on the needs of the government, defence, health, telecommunications, finance, and education sectors. Core participants include five universities, two Commonwealth agencies, two state governments, Boeing, Fujitsu, Mincom, Sun, and Telstra. Other companies including IBM, Microsoft, Motorola, Suncorp and Technology One are also involved.

One project is aimed at providing an architecture for cross-organisation contract management that can be deployed to any setting, including e-procurement, collaboration, and virtual enterprise, whether within or between organisations. The architecture includes various components -- such as a contract repository and a monitor to compare the particulars of events with those specified in the contract -- and these must be linked. "Web services could be a natural solution," says Zoran Milosevic, business contracts architecture project leader.

Chief scientist Andy Bond believes the IT industry has ignored the differences between activity within and between organisations. When multiple organisations are involved, interoperability is required, not necessarily integration. Different organisations have their own sovereignty and integrity issues, but they need to collaborate. Furthermore, those collaborations often involve multiple partners.

What's needed is a way to represent agreed contracts, monitor them, and take action when actions deviate from the contracts. "Web services gives you a leverage point" to start bridging organisations, says Bond.

Traditional paper-based contracts include descriptions of service levels and other ways such as delivery dates that the contracts can be fulfilled. People then monitor the performance of the other party to ensure compliance.

But large organisations may have hundreds of outstanding contracts, and it isn't easy to monitor them manually or to spot trends (eg, supply problems in different parts of the organisation may all be due to a single supplier). Bringing all the contracts into a single repository enables a big picture overview that is difficult or impossible for individual contract managers to achieve. Similarly, suppliers can benefit from a better way of managing the delivery of goods and services to their customers.

DSTC has ASP.NET and WebSphere skills, and each technology has its strengths, says Milosevic. For example, WebSphere is good for event processing, while ASP.NET is more powerful than Java-based product when it comes to creating flexible user interfaces. So DSTC looked to Web services for a way to integrate these technologies. Web services standards such as WDSL, SOAP, and UDDI are "all very good for inter-enterprise integration," says Milosevic. While there were a few interoperability problems with beta releases of software, the work done by WS-I (Web Services Interoperability Organization) and the involvement of major vendors has taken care of that issue, he says.

Web services alone is not sufficient, says Bond, as semantics plays an important part when going outside an organisation. To use a simple and somewhat contrived example, "3in nail" may fully describe a fastener in an organisation that only uses galvanised bullet head nails, but a trading partner might interpret it as a 3in plain steel flat-head nail. "Semantics are often ignored by a community when looking at integration," says Bond. "Web services is a mechanism for cross-organisation communication, not necessarily the other aspects," which include trust, reputation management, governance, and monitoring.

Tools are emerging to build interoperability at the semantic level, says Milosevic, such as the OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) standards including LegalXML and the standardisation of contracts -- or at least the building blocks of contracts. Such building blocks are "a very cost-efficient way of composing new contracts," he says.

Preliminary work has been done on ways of representing contracts digitally, but DSTC is looking for broad agreement concerning the elements that are required. Mechanisms for monitoring the performance of contractual obligations have been implemented for some types of contract, including financial and asset management applications. The pilot system built at the DSTC lab implements an end-to-end contract architecture, with components for representing contracts, monitoring contracts, and notifying the parties when extraordinary activity has occurred. It is designed to link with ERP software, telco software, and payment systems via Web services adaptors from companies such as IBM and SAP.

According to Brad Kasell, engagement manager of IBM's jStart program, work is underway with DSTC clients to implement the system in real-world settings. IBM is playing a part in this build-out, he says. Due to its wide adoption, Web services provides a lower-cost mechanism for integrating a generic contract system with a variety of applications.

"We're talking about a new category of software," says Milosevic, who believes DSTC is the only Australian organisation working in this area.

An advantage of using Web services as an integration technology is that it provides an easily extensible architecture when additional features are required, such as new mechanisms for notifying a failure to meet a contractual obligation.

Pillar
Pillar, the superannuation administration business owned by the NSW state government, is using Web services to ensure fund members and employers receive consistent information regardless of their chosen communications channel.

The strategy is to insert a layer between the back-end (a variety of commercial superannuation applications) and front-end software (Web site, call centre software, and internal systems). Over time, the intermediate layer will become the source of information for all customer-facing applications. Connection between the layers is via Web services.

The previous lack of consistency occurred for various reasons, explains e-business manager Gordon Sneddon. One is that data warehouses used by different systems were not updated simultaneously. If one was updated at 11pm and another at 2pm, late-night inquiries via the call centre and the Web site could result in two different answers. Differences in the way that various systems handle rounding can also lead to varying results.

Pillar manages a variety of superannuation funds that have different rules and systems, but Pillar must manage all of them according to their own rules. Adding to the complexity, each fund must be identified with its own branding.

Pillar's Web site is the first system to be connected to the Web services layer. "The long term goal is to have a Web services architecture where all calls are made through one set of interfaces," says David Wilcox, NSW Practice Manager at Dimension Data.

Apart from the desire for consistency, another key driver behind the project is that the Web services layer will make it easier to add additional channels such as WAP or IP telephony, explains Sneddon. All that will be needed is a new front end that connects to the Web services layer. "That's a big thing for us -- building for the future," he says.

It also increases the reusability of code, and -- by ensuring that all interactions pass through one set of interfaces -- makes it easier to comply with legislative changes.

The back-end applications are not Web-friendly, so data is extracted from them and stored in a data warehouse built on top of DB2. The Web services layer, which was written using .NET and runs on Windows Server 2003, responds to requests from the presentation layer by retrieving data from the warehouse. This architecture means only the presentation layer needs to be changed when Pillar takes on the management of another fund. The company has just taken on two new and substantial clients and there are more prospects in the pipeline, so this is an important consideration.

.NET was selected as Pillar's programmers were already experienced in Microsoft technologies, Sneddon says. Web services and .NET provide a very cost effective integration platform, he adds.

The Web site had been built using ASP.NET, so it was easily modified to consume Web services. The site was developed by Dimension Data approximately three years ago and handed over to Pillar for ongoing development.

Creating the Web services layer and modifying the Web site was a three-month project involving two technical leads and two half-time developers from Dimension Data and two developers and a graphic designer from Pillar. Migrating Pillar's infrastructure to Windows Server 2003 took about four weeks, says Wilcox.

The call centre systems and internal enquiries will be connected to the Web services layer during the next 12 months, says Sneddon. Some integration work will be needed on the Nortel Symposium call centre software, but it is Web services-ready. The internal enquiry system is browser-based, and requires adapting to the Web services data source.

Executive summary

  • Web services is being used as an integration technology within organisations and between trusted partners.
  • Web services is attracting broad support and will make integration cheaper and easier as the standardisation effort proceeds.
  • Recent software may have native Web services interfaces. Other programs can be added to a Web services framework via wrappers and connectors.
  • The use of Web services as an integration technology makes it easier to replace (or add to) back- or front-end applications without disruption.
  • Web services can simplify integration, but doesn't remove the need for thorough testing.
  • While XML makes data self-describing, it doesn't eliminate semantic issues.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
Click here for subscription information.
Page II: The use of Web services as an integration technology is starting to pick up speed. We asked four local organisations about their Web services integration projects.

Distributed Systems Technology Centre
The Distributed Systems Technology Centre (DSTC) is a national R&D centre focusing on the needs of the government, defence, health, telecommunications, finance, and education sectors. Core participants include five universities, two Commonwealth agencies, two state governments, Boeing, Fujitsu, Mincom, Sun, and Telstra. Other companies including IBM, Microsoft, Motorola, Suncorp and Technology One are also involved.

One project is aimed at providing an architecture for cross-organisation contract management that can be deployed to any setting, including e-procurement, collaboration, and virtual enterprise, whether within or between organisations. The architecture includes various components -- such as a contract repository and a monitor to compare the particulars of events with those specified in the contract -- and these must be linked. "Web services could be a natural solution," says Zoran Milosevic, business contracts architecture project leader.

Chief scientist Andy Bond believes the IT industry has ignored the differences between activity within and between organisations. When multiple organisations are involved, interoperability is required, not necessarily integration. Different organisations have their own sovereignty and integrity issues, but they need to collaborate. Furthermore, those collaborations often involve multiple partners.

What's needed is a way to represent agreed contracts, monitor them, and take action when actions deviate from the contracts. "Web services gives you a leverage point" to start bridging organisations, says Bond.

Traditional paper-based contracts include descriptions of service levels and other ways such as delivery dates that the contracts can be fulfilled. People then monitor the performance of the other party to ensure compliance.

But large organisations may have hundreds of outstanding contracts, and it isn't easy to monitor them manually or to spot trends (eg, supply problems in different parts of the organisation may all be due to a single supplier). Bringing all the contracts into a single repository enables a big picture overview that is difficult or impossible for individual contract managers to achieve. Similarly, suppliers can benefit from a better way of managing the delivery of goods and services to their customers.

DSTC has ASP.NET and WebSphere skills, and each technology has its strengths, says Milosevic. For example, WebSphere is good for event processing, while ASP.NET is more powerful than Java-based product when it comes to creating flexible user interfaces. So DSTC looked to Web services for a way to integrate these technologies. Web services standards such as WDSL, SOAP, and UDDI are "all very good for inter-enterprise integration," says Milosevic. While there were a few interoperability problems with beta releases of software, the work done by WS-I (Web Services Interoperability Organization) and the involvement of major vendors has taken care of that issue, he says.

Web services alone is not sufficient, says Bond, as semantics plays an important part when going outside an organisation. To use a simple and somewhat contrived example, "3in nail" may fully describe a fastener in an organisation that only uses galvanised bullet head nails, but a trading partner might interpret it as a 3in plain steel flat-head nail. "Semantics are often ignored by a community when looking at integration," says Bond. "Web services is a mechanism for cross-organisation communication, not necessarily the other aspects," which include trust, reputation management, governance, and monitoring.

Tools are emerging to build interoperability at the semantic level, says Milosevic, such as the OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) standards including LegalXML and the standardisation of contracts -- or at least the building blocks of contracts. Such building blocks are "a very cost-efficient way of composing new contracts," he says.

Preliminary work has been done on ways of representing contracts digitally, but DSTC is looking for broad agreement concerning the elements that are required. Mechanisms for monitoring the performance of contractual obligations have been implemented for some types of contract, including financial and asset management applications. The pilot system built at the DSTC lab implements an end-to-end contract architecture, with components for representing contracts, monitoring contracts, and notifying the parties when extraordinary activity has occurred. It is designed to link with ERP software, telco software, and payment systems via Web services adaptors from companies such as IBM and SAP.

According to Brad Kasell, engagement manager of IBM's jStart program, work is underway with DSTC clients to implement the system in real-world settings. IBM is playing a part in this build-out, he says. Due to its wide adoption, Web services provides a lower-cost mechanism for integrating a generic contract system with a variety of applications.

"We're talking about a new category of software," says Milosevic, who believes DSTC is the only Australian organisation working in this area.

An advantage of using Web services as an integration technology is that it provides an easily extensible architecture when additional features are required, such as new mechanisms for notifying a failure to meet a contractual obligation.

Pillar
Pillar, the superannuation administration business owned by the NSW state government, is using Web services to ensure fund members and employers receive consistent information regardless of their chosen communications channel.

The strategy is to insert a layer between the back-end (a variety of commercial superannuation applications) and front-end software (Web site, call centre software, and internal systems). Over time, the intermediate layer will become the source of information for all customer-facing applications. Connection between the layers is via Web services.

The previous lack of consistency occurred for various reasons, explains e-business manager Gordon Sneddon. One is that data warehouses used by different systems were not updated simultaneously. If one was updated at 11pm and another at 2pm, late-night inquiries via the call centre and the Web site could result in two different answers. Differences in the way that various systems handle rounding can also lead to varying results.

Pillar manages a variety of superannuation funds that have different rules and systems, but Pillar must manage all of them according to their own rules. Adding to the complexity, each fund must be identified with its own branding.

Pillar's Web site is the first system to be connected to the Web services layer. "The long term goal is to have a Web services architecture where all calls are made through one set of interfaces," says David Wilcox, NSW Practice Manager at Dimension Data.

Apart from the desire for consistency, another key driver behind the project is that the Web services layer will make it easier to add additional channels such as WAP or IP telephony, explains Sneddon. All that will be needed is a new front end that connects to the Web services layer. "That's a big thing for us -- building for the future," he says.

It also increases the reusability of code, and -- by ensuring that all interactions pass through one set of interfaces -- makes it easier to comply with legislative changes.

The back-end applications are not Web-friendly, so data is extracted from them and stored in a data warehouse built on top of DB2. The Web services layer, which was written using .NET and runs on Windows Server 2003, responds to requests from the presentation layer by retrieving data from the warehouse. This architecture means only the presentation layer needs to be changed when Pillar takes on the management of another fund. The company has just taken on two new and substantial clients and there are more prospects in the pipeline, so this is an important consideration.

.NET was selected as Pillar's programmers were already experienced in Microsoft technologies, Sneddon says. Web services and .NET provide a very cost effective integration platform, he adds.

The Web site had been built using ASP.NET, so it was easily modified to consume Web services. The site was developed by Dimension Data approximately three years ago and handed over to Pillar for ongoing development.

Creating the Web services layer and modifying the Web site was a three-month project involving two technical leads and two half-time developers from Dimension Data and two developers and a graphic designer from Pillar. Migrating Pillar's infrastructure to Windows Server 2003 took about four weeks, says Wilcox.

The call centre systems and internal enquiries will be connected to the Web services layer during the next 12 months, says Sneddon. Some integration work will be needed on the Nortel Symposium call centre software, but it is Web services-ready. The internal enquiry system is browser-based, and requires adapting to the Web services data source.

Executive summary

  • Web services is being used as an integration technology within organisations and between trusted partners.
  • Web services is attracting broad support and will make integration cheaper and easier as the standardisation effort proceeds.
  • Recent software may have native Web services interfaces. Other programs can be added to a Web services framework via wrappers and connectors.
  • The use of Web services as an integration technology makes it easier to replace (or add to) back- or front-end applications without disruption.
  • Web services can simplify integration, but doesn't remove the need for thorough testing.
  • While XML makes data self-describing, it doesn't eliminate semantic issues.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
Click here for subscription information.

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