New Suite Addresses Both Ends of Host Data Access

To provide Web access to AS/400 host data, vendors typically offer one of two approaches: either front-end Web-to-host solutions, or back-end systems integration. A new suite of tools on the market combines both these methods into a single environment. Intelligent Environments (iE, Burlingame, Mass.) recently released a toolset that integrates multiple, disparate systems and databases with multiple, disparate front ends, including the Web and front-office applications.

IE's suite bundles two re-engineered products: iE Integrator (formerly Amazon Integrator), an enterprise application integration (EAI) tool, and iE ScreenSurfer, a general-purpose Web gateway for 5250 and 3270 terminal emulation. These products are now available as a suite to integrate existing systems with e-commerce, resolve complex integration issues, and provide tools for rapid deployment.

The market for such "legacyware" applications stands at about $220 million and growing, says Ed Acly, director of middleware research at IDC. "There is a need to provide integrated access from new distributed environments--the Web being one of them--to back-end resources. What we're seeing with products, such as this from iE, is a variety of ways to give customers a bridge between the two different environments."

One early adopter of iE's technology, Central Insurance Co. of Van Wert, Ohio, has been able to cut significant amounts of time for pulling data from its AS/400 system to turn around quotes for automobile, home and business insurance policies. More than 630 independent agents throughout the country have been able to use the Internet to submit a quote to the iE environment software that Central Insurance wrote and receive the information back in as little as ten minutes.

Initially, the company considered front-end host connectivity products. "We wanted a more efficient way to allow our agents to do business with us and felt that the Internet would be the best method," says Larry Streets, senior systems analyst with Central Insurance. Prior to using iE's Integrator, agents seeking a quote either had to fax in a form, or had to talk with a Central Insurance representative, who would key in the request to the central system. This could take as long as three days to complete the transaction. Also, in the old method, it could take an operator as long as 25 minutes to key in a quote request. With the new forms that Central Insurance created using iE Integrator, that same data can now be entered into the system in only seven minutes. "We saved a lot of time and money for both the agent and ourselves," notes Streets.

IE's intent is to provide scalable solutions that will replace emulators with Web pages, says Roger Willcox, iE CEO. "Corporations are faced with much more sophisticated application server projects, which require re-engineering back-end systems to multiple front-ends." A more versatile solution is critical for "complex integration requirements driven by the new opportunities presented by the Web and modern front office technologies, such as customer relationship management, call centers and the special needs of Web developers," he says.