IT Web services to expose apps to outsiders

Buoyed by the opportunity to easily and safely share data with customers and partners, IT organizations are increasingly exposing internal applications and data outside their corporate firewalls as Web services.

The District of Columbia, for example, on March 1 will go live with a new system that uses Web services to help emergency command centers in Washington and surrounding areas coordinate responses in the event of natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

The CapStat system is being built on a service-oriented architecture that uses Web services to allow command centers in five jurisdictions in Washington, Virginia and Maryland to exchange essential information.

The centers will share data such as citizen reports of power outages, updated inventories of emergency response 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, said Dan Thomas, who oversees the CapStat program. Thomas is also director of the DCStat program in the district's Office of the Chief Technology Officer.

The separate DCStat program uses Web services to monitor the delivery of municipal services.

Funded by a US$1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, CapStat relies on an SOA foundation to overcome system and data incompatibility problems associated with retrieving and sharing disparate data, Thomas said.

CapStat uses Sonic Software's enterprise service bus (ESB) technology to link the command centers and to publish and consume Web services, Thomas said. Thus, partners can share and consume data without having to alter existing systems, he added.

"The SOA model's loose coupling between services is the only practical way to implement and administer CapStat's distributed architecture," Thomas said. "[The ESB] traverses firewalls, routers and other network boundaries between partner organizations to create a shared message channel that is both secure and reliable."

Automatic Data Processing in Roseland, New Jersey, is rewriting all of the applications in its payroll and human resources arm as Web services that can be exposed to clients, said James Barry, ADP's vice president of application development. Barry declined to detail how many of the hundreds of applications have already been exposed as Web services, but he said that ADP is "far along" in its effort.

For example, employees at a large New York-based investment bank can already access payroll information from ADP as Web services on the bank's intranet, without having to sign on to ADP's Web site, Barry said.

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

TrueCredit, a San Luis Obispo, California-based division of TransUnion, in October 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, said Scott Metzger, TrueCredit's chief technology officer. The firm already provides reused Web services to consumers. It uses the same Web services interface for both the consumer and partner versions, Metzger said. The Web services that the company wrote for consumers were built using BEA Systems' WebLogic application server software.

The provider of credit scoring and related financial services began building Web services in 2000, Metzger said. ADP first began building Web services in 2003.

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

In addition, he said, as vendors such as Oracle, BEA Systems and IBM add support for Web services to their portal products, users are finding that the tools can let them more easily drag and drop services to a portal, where they can be organized and then made available to outside users.

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