Beyond the corporate firewall: web services enable data sharing

Applications from different organisations are talking to each other in a number of projects in the US. Heather Havenstein reports

Buoyed up by the opportunity to easily and safely share data with customers and partners, IT departments are increasingly taking internal applications and data outside their corporate firewalls in the form of web services.

For example, The District of Columbia in the US will soon go live with a new system that uses web services to help emergency command centres in Washington DC and surrounding areas coordinate responses in the event of natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

The system, called CapStat, is being built on an SOA (service-oriented architecture) that uses web services to allow command centres in five jurisdictions in Washington, Virginia and Maryland to exchange essential information.

The centres will share data such as citizen reports of power outages, updated inventories of emergency vehicles and the locations of people reporting suspicious disease symptoms.

Currently, emergency management officials in the Washington area communicate via telephone to share such information during a crisis, says Dan Thomas, who oversees the CapStat programme. Thomas is also director of the DCStat programme in the District of Columbia’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer.

The separate DCStat programme uses web services to monitor the delivery of municipal services.

Funded by a US$1 million (NZ$1.45 million) grant from the US Department of Homeland Security, CapStat relies on the SOA foundation to overcome system and data incompatibility problems associated with retrieving and sharing disparate data, Thomas says.

CapStat uses Sonic Software’s enterprise service bus (ESB) technology to link the command centres, and to publish and consume web services, Thomas says. Thus, partners can share and consume data without having to alter existing systems, he adds.

“The SOA model’s loose coupling between services is the only practical way to implement and administer CapStat’s distributed architecture,” he says. “[The ESB] traverses firewalls, routers and other network boundaries between partner organisations to create a shared message channel that is both secure and reliable.”

Outsourcer Automatic Data Processing is rewriting all the applications in its payroll and human resources arm as web services that can be exposed to clients, says James Barry, ADP’s vice president of application development.

He says that ADP is “far along” in its effort and, as an example, says employees at an investment bank client can access payroll information from ADP as web services on the bank’s intranet without having to sign on to ADP’s website.

Web services are also making it easier for ADP to import and export data between clients and its customised proprietary general-ledger systems, he says.

TrueCredit, a TransUnion, last year launched the third generation of its SOA to expose reused credit monitoring and other web services to banks and other commercial partners in the financial industry, says Scott Metzger, TrueCredit’s chief technology officer.

The firm already provides reused web services to consumers, using the same web services interface for both the consumer and partner versions, Metzger says. The web services that the company wrote for consumers were built using BEA Systems’ WebLogic application server software.

TrueCredit began building web services in 2000, while ADP first did so in 2003.

William Mougayar, an analyst at Aberdeen Group, says companies are beginning to expose web services because doing so promises to make it possible to more quickly link with partners and customers.

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