Playing Integration Game

Small e-gaming company YaYa uses Web services to connect with customers' legacy systems.

How does a 20-person online gaming company deliver without going broke when giant Fortune 500 clients ask for customized training tools that integrate seamlessly with the clients CRM and other enterprise applications?

For Kevin Rivard and James Clarke, chief technology officer and chief operating officer, respectively, at Los Angeles-based YaYa LLC, the answer was to use Web services tools and management services to enable their companys proprietary gaming platform to integrate with the legacy applications of their clients.

Rivard and Clarke said they believe the decision to use Web services for enterprise application integration, rather than more traditional application and data integration middleware, will dramatically reduce the amount of time YaYa spends laboring over integration projects. And that will enable YaYa to spend more time and money on its core business: providing customized gaming and interactive media content.

YaYa certainly isnt alone in looking to Web services technologies to solve increasingly complex, interenterprise integration challenges. Standards such as SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), experts say, offer a relatively simple, quick way to tie together applications that may be scattered across multiple platforms and written in multiple languages.

"In an environment where each client is going to have his own custom tools and applications, SOAP and Web services is becoming the standard for integration," said Rivard.

Rivard and Clarke began to consider Web services for interenterprise integration late last year after major clients began to ask the company to tie its games more closely to their enterprise systems.

YaYa provides customized online interactive games to Fortune 500 companies that use the games for training and advertising purposes. A client that uses YaYas games for online advertising and product promotion, for example, might want to have players register, then pull data about that user from its own CRM (customer relationship management) application to customize the game experience or engage in cross-selling.

Before YaYa could begin to provide that kind of integration to clients, however, it had to rework its systems. For two years before embarking on the Web services push, YaYa developed each game as a custom application, written as Java servlets and running on the Apache Tomcat servlet engine. In addition to the game code, each application managed its data and administrative functions, such as user sign-on.

Early this year, Rivard decided YaYa needed a consistent back-end platform flexible enough to allow him to easily implement new games and allow third parties to easily integrate with its back-end applications. With the help of Deloitte Consulting, the consulting arm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, in New York, YaYa built a proprietary platform called CDT (Customer Dialogue Technology). CDT consolidates user information and stores it on Oracle Corp.s Oracle8i and Oracle9i databases and provides reports using Crystal Decisions Inc.s Crystal Reports. CDT will also provide consolidated administrative functions, such as registration, rewards and e-mail, that are shared by all the companys custom games.

With user data and shared services consolidated into CDT, YaYa could more easily begin to satisfy customer demand for integration. In July, YaYa officials decided Web services were the key to this puzzle and chose to deploy the XMLBus edition of the Orbix E2A Web Services Integration Platform from Iona Technologies plc., of Waltham, Mass. Orbix E2A Web Services Integration Platform allows external systems to interact with CDT using SOAP messages.

So far, YaYa has developed and exposed for integration with clients a registration service using the E2A Web Services Integration Platform and CDT. As the company rolls out games for its clients, everything—including the registration functions, log-ins, updating of profiles and sweepstakes entries—runs on Web services technologies with Java servlets communicating with Ionas XMLBus. XMLBus allows YaYa to create a SOAP gateway that conforms to a Web Services Description Language interface derived from YaYas original Java code.

"We wanted back-end technology that was very flexible and that could be exposed to third parties, and using Web services was the most flexible way," Rivard said.

The company recently completed the first client integration project with customer DaimlerChrysler AG, which uses YaYa games for training, Rivard said.

Although Rivard expressed satisfaction so far with the integration initiative, he acknowledged concern with Web services technologies lack of built-in security and quality-of-service guarantees required by most corporations.

"Were dealing with that in the short term by not exposing these services to the world and by using [Secure Sockets Layer] to encrypt the services and requiring each client to be authenticated," Rivard said. "Over time, we expect to see stronger security in these products."

Meanwhile, however, the risk of using Web services technologies has been outweighed by the ease and lower cost of integration, said Clarke. "Its critical for our application to be platform-agnostic, and [the] level of rigor that can be applied to this task using middleware is quite high. Integrating applications via Web services was the way to go," he said.

Related stories:

  • Integration Tactics
  • XML: New Options, New Worries