XML Moves Province From Last to First
In the Canadian province of Manitoba, XML helped transform the provincial government’s dowdy computing structure into an integrated infrastructure that both eliminated manual processes and opened the door to eventual Web services. An initial XML-based project was so successful that it took the province from worst to first in terms of integration, according to a supplier that works with Canada’s governmental entities.
Like many organizations, the Province of Manitoba had grown its technology infrastructure according to departmental directives instead of organizational imperatives. The result: 26 departments, each with its own isolated applications. Information wasn’t shared, so a citizen who moved would have to tell multiple departments about the new address. Recognizing the problem, provincial executives began a “Better Systems Initiative” five years ago to cooperatively integrate applications and information exchange.
The first step was an end-to-end architectural blueprint that could guide purchases and development for the next decade. Core technologies included Java, IBM WebSphere, Advanced Edition and DB2.
The first integration challenges involved the personal property registry, which registers liens against property used to secure loans. The existing system involved manual data entry of more than 1,500 transactions daily by both province personnel and provincial personnel. The transactions were sent by a Vancouver-based clearing house called Canadian Securities Registration Systems.
After rejecting proprietary, queue-based solutions via a Virtual Private Network (VPN), the Province of Manitoba looked at XML. Although XML was just emerging as a business data integration technology two years ago, it had the backing of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and had stemmed from Standard General Markup Language (SGML), a long-time standard.
Additionally, it was platform-neutral, compressible, extensible and encryptable.“XML fit in well with our efforts to develop a general solution that we could use for [Canadian Securities Registration Systems] or any other business partner in the future,” says Greg Boettcher, chief software architect.
Because the province was an early adopter, it had to develop its own Document Type Definitions (DTDs). DTDs, which have since been superseded by schemas, use plain-text, ASCII-like tags to describe the formatting and content of a valid XML document. Similar to HTML tags, XML tags identify data so that it can be appropriately mapped within an application. Now that task is much easier, since industry consortia and other groups have developed freely available DTDs and schemas.
Launched in September 2000, the solution included replacing the mainframe-based personal property registry with a Java-based system that uses servlets and Enterprise Java Beans (EJBs) running on WebSphere Advanced on an AIX-based IBM S/80.
Data updates involved an XML document that was “wrappered” inside another “dispatcher” XML document. The dispatcher could dynamically determine the appropriate application and create the necessary link. Security was handled via SSL.
The XML-based system produced numerous benefits. Previously, up to 20 clerks were involved in manually transferring lien information.With the elimination of manual data entry, department size has been reduced by six clerks. Only three clerks are needed to run reports and monitor transactions. Turnaround time has been slashed from weeks to hours. The benefits prompted Canadian Securities Registration Systems executives to observe that the province “had leapfrogged from the last jurisdiction to automate, to the one with the most elegant solution.”
Nick Wreden is a technology writer and author of FusionBranding: Strategic Branding Models for the Customer Economy