Justice Ministry shows new face

Ministry goes for app integration to knit confusing collection of interfaces

The Ministry of Justice is embarking on a application integration exercise that will reduce a confusing collection of one-to-one application interfaces to a “hub-and-spoke” system and let related agencies see one common interface with the ministry.

The architecture of the hub, to be created using BEA Weblogic elements, will impose standards on the development of application interfaces and provide a common library of reusable interface elements. This will mean each new application will only have to interface with the hub and that interface will be able to be developed with a quick “cut and paste and tweak” process, says Andre Lategan, the ministry’s enterprise architect.

“It will relieve applications developers from worrying about how the interfaces to other applications will be supported,” Lategan says. The hub will manage common standards of security, error detection and error recovery. For example, it will not allow a production database to be inadvertently connected to a test application. If an application server goes down it will issue appropriate alerts, then ensure users’ systems are aware when the server has been recovered.

Major applications to be brought into the hub-and-spoke architecture include the new programs to administer the “clean slate” legislation, wiping offenders’ old convictions and sentences from the record. Others include the controversial Courts case management system, the Collect fines system and a new Trace Application to track down fines owing.

Applications in related agencies such as the Police will also interface into the hub. Whatever internal application they are seeking to link with, “they will see one common interface with the Ministry of Justice”, Lategan says.

An incidental benefit of the hub is that it will allow straightforward measurement of adherence to service level agreements with agencies such as the Police and the Land Transport Safety Authority.

Justice got no new funding from government for the integration architecture development. It has to be funded from expected economies.

Under the old system, interfaces were developed by different teams, who “reinvented the wheel a lot”. Often all the crucial members of the team moved, making it hard to fix future problems. The business case demonstrated that a lot of these problems would go away.

Ten completing products were evaluated “on paper” followed by a more in-depth investigation of shortlisted contenders, Lategan says. The choice of Weblogic integration was influenced by the fact that several major applications already used Weblogic Server.

The major applications are set to be integrated by March next year, giving the ministry a three-month lead on the mid-2005 decommissioning of the old Law Enforcement System (the legendary “Wanganui computer”, now run by EDS in Auckland).

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