Maryland county tries XML

Officials in Montgomery County, Md. — feeling lost in the maze of databases used by their government agencies — decided to take a shortcut to information sharing via Extensible Markup Language.

The county recently teamed with InfoShark Inc., a specialist in data integration software, to use XMLShark for providing links across the various databases used by county agencies.

XML has become a popular tool for sharing information, particularly across the Internet. The language makes it possible to tag information in such a way that the system on the other end knows how to understand it. XMLShark, for example, automates exchanges between database software from Oracle Corp., IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp.

And that is just what Montgomery County needed. County agencies are looking to exchange information so they can improve the services they provide to the public.

"What we're trying to do is connect disparate data from various sources and open them up in a sense through XML and get them to talk to each other," said Ken Goldman, applications manager for Montgomery County's Web portal (www.emontgomery.org).

One area in particular that benefits from such seamless communication is public safety, according to Goldman. Separate entities such as law enforcement, corrections, fire and emergency services, for example, must often share data in a timely manner in order to protect citizens. The fact that each of the department's databases may run on different platforms becomes irrelevant with an XML-based program inserted as a base, Goldman said.

With more than 855,000 citizens, Montgomery County is the most populous jurisdiction in Maryland and the second-most populous in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

The county had worked with InfoShark in the past on a data-querying project, so when it came time to upgrade services, the company suggested an XML-based program.

The initial cost of the program is less than $25,000 for a single server license to operate XMLShark. But if the program works well, the county may expand its use, Goldman said.

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