Active Software expands integration offering

Active Software Inc., which is part of the emerging enterprise application integration market, announced last week 23 new "adapters" that allow organizations to integrate information from various applications and other data sources.

The adapters are ready-made system interfaces that run as part of Active Software's Integration System program, which is designed to be a software "switch" that allows information to move between incompatible shrink-wrapped or customized systems.

The announcement gives Integration Systems users a comprehensive offering covering 38 products, said Jim Green, chief information officer of Active Software, Santa Clara, Calif.

The newest batch includes support for such applications as Microsoft Corp. Office, FileNet Corp. imaging, and SAP AG and PeopleSoft Inc. client/server software, such languages as Cobol and PL/1, and the industry's leading database systems.

The company also announced its ActiveAdapter program, which includes independent software vendors who want to develop packaged adapters.

The Integration Systems program is based on an "information broker" that sits between two incompatible systems. The adapters translate data for the broker, not for another system. The broker itself mediates the exchange between the different systems.

The government will be a big user of this type of application integration software, said Roy Schulte, vice president for Research Advisory Services with Gartner Group, Stamford, Conn.

The Defense Department is particularly known for its large integration projects, Schulte said. Before such technology emerged, application developers forced users to write their own adapters, which added considerable and expense to fielding an application, he said.

The potential market is vast, said Harry Tse, director of The Yankee Group's Enterprise Planning Service, Boston. The Yankee Group estimated that organizations are spending $3 billion a year to integrate new applications to legacy systems in just the enterprise resource planning arena, which involves such critical applications as financial management and human resources.

"This market might be billions of dollars in the next couple of years," said Jeanine Fournier, senior analyst, middleware, with Aberdeen Group, Boston. But the market for packaged adapters is less than a year old, and more real-world implementations need to be seen as "proof that it works," she said.

Driving the market is the desire to integrate best-of-breed applications, to accelerate implementation and to move information beyond current confines, such as from mainframes to the World Wide Web, Fournier said. The benefits of the prefabricated approach are reduced implementation time and cost and software reusability.

One high-profile Active Software customer is the Transportation Department's U.S. Electronic Grants program, which is a project to automate the grant process that was piloted over the past 12 months and is now being developed into a cross-agency system.

The pilot, which ended in April, developed a Web-based grant application process tested by customers of multiple agencies, said Brad Smith, the electronic grants project manager. Java applets presented lists of required information to applicants, who returned data that was passed through the Active Software information broker to back-end databases.

DOT has partnered with the Labor, Education and Interior departments, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Coast Guard and other agencies to develop a full-fledged electronic grant application, Smith said. Using Active Software "dramatically reduces the complexity of doing a thing like this."

A major attraction of the Active Software product is its "pre-made adapters," which are "saving a tremendous amount of time," Smith said. Other features are the software's ability to queue and filter information and to simplify previously laborious tasks such as submitting address changes to multiple agencies. Furthermore, pre-existing "internal applications are not impacted by this [system]," he said.

The grant application automation system also will incorporate a more sophisticated architecture, which Smith expects Active Software to deliver this summer. Instead of a single information broker— the hub through which messages between applications pass— the cross-agency system will use a "broker-to-broker" architecture, where the hubs of individual agencies' integrated systems are themselves interconnected. The expanded architecture will support more users and ensure agencies' ownership of their internal applications.

The National Security Agency is also an Active Software customer. It uses the company's integration software to implement projects such as database integration, back-end processing and notification, and information distribution, the company said.

-- Adams is a free-lance writer based in Alexandria, Va.

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