Developers are bringing out enterprise application integration tools that automate the process of converting legacy mainframe data to XML and other types of data that can be used in modern business-to-business and other enterprise applications.
Attachmate Corp., for one, this week will announce the MyExtra Smart Connectors, a comprehensive line of data and logic access tools that securely exposes legacy information and applications to serve new business initiatives.
Smart Connectors let organizations convert legacy host-based information to XML, Web services or component technologies, such as EJB (Enterprise JavaBeans) and COM+ (Component Object Model+), which can be used by multiple applications across the enterprise.
The goal with Smart Connectors is to reduce the time it takes to generate new applications based on core business data from months or weeks to days or hours, according to officials at Attachmate, in Bellevue, Wash.
Graphical, drag-and-drop technology in the MyExtra Screen Connectors is used to deploy new applications. Host transactions can be transformed into a number of technologies, including Web services or Bean (EJB or JavaBeans) transactions, Microsoft Corp.s .Net Common Language Runtime objects, XML over HTTP, Microsoft Message Queuing, or MQSeries. This makes them host transactions available for screen access, direct transaction access and embedded CICS methods.
Because Smart Connectors take a noninvasive approach to accessing and transforming host data and business logic, there is no change to the host code or disruption to the infrastructure, officials said.
Smart Connectors provide access to 3270 applications on IBM mainframes and to 5250 applications on IBM AS/400 or iSeries servers, as well as to T27 applications on Unisys Corp. ClearPath NX Series mainframes. The tools access Electronic Commerce Indicator-compliant CICS and IMS transactions without going through presentation logic.
Jim Ingwerson is the risk manager for the TABS (Tax Appeals Benefits Self Service) project for the state of Kansas. About a year ago, Ingwersons department kicked off the $7 million TABS project to upgrade the states call center software to provide additional channels for customers—claimants filing for unemployment insurance—to interface with the state.
Ingwerson also wanted to upgrade his departments interactive voice response system and provide self- service through that, as well as provide a desktop solution that was more stable than the Visual Basic application he had been using.
Since most of Ingwersons legacy data is mainframe-, CICS- and COBOL-based, with the business logic residing in CICS and COBOL, he turned to Attachmates Smart Connectors.
"We wanted to maintain and retain that because we knew that once we got in there and reworked that [business logic], TABS would be a lot longer project [than we had bargained for]," said Ingwerson, in Topeka. "By using Attachmate, we were able to go in and access information and feed it to the appropriate systems—Web applications and Siebel [Systems Inc.] applications.
"Basically what [the Smart Connectors line] does is you take the Web application, and when [a customer] is applying through the Web for an initial claim, the Web application triggers off a request for the CICS transaction to gather information on the customer, then its a screen-scraping operation that passes information back to the Web app," said Ingwerson.
While he did not have to change his source code to get the Web capability, to achieve new functionality, Ingwerson did have to upgrade his infrastructure considerably.
The state of Kansas had used Attachmate MyExtra previously for its 3270 emulation package, but the Smart Connectors are much more stable. "It doesnt go down as often, where before we would lose our sessions in the call center, and they would have to re-establish that session in the call center," said Ingwerson.
Without using Smart Connectors, Ingwerson said, he would not have nearly the functionality he has.
"With the desktops, youre able to view more data through Siebel, and we wouldnt be able to use the Web," said Ingwerson. "Wed have to use the IBM-type [integration] technology. We did look at that, and what weve seen there is wed still have the green screen, and it wouldnt be as user-friendly as we thought the Web needed to be."
Moving forward, Ingwerson will use Smart Connectors to integrate with the Social Security Administration to share data with that agency by validating Social Security numbers that come through to the state of Kansas.
"We have ... mainframe applications that were written 30 years ago, and no one knows how they work," said K.C. Jones, a Web developer/.Net architect with The Stanley Works, in New Britain, Conn. Jones is using Attachmate Smart Connectors to interface with Stanleys legacy systems. "Attachmate can interface directly to the mainframe, and thats the key to get information without having to custom-write code or do massive data [transfers]," he said.