Calling all data
- By Ed McKenna
- Dec 02, 2001
During the past two months, the Bush administration's war on terrorism
has sparked a surge in support for greater collaboration among government
organizations to combat terrorism.
On Capitol Hill, Congress passed anti-terrorism legislation that boosts
information sharing between intelligence and law enforcement organizations,
while prominent public figures, such as former National Security Adviser
Sandy Berger, urged homeland security director Tom Ridge to make data sharing
A diverse set of technologies that facilitate collaboration, known as
enterprise application integration (EAI), could hold the key to achieving
this goal. Efforts to deploy data-sharing systems, however, will face the
technological complexities of agency legacy systems and a thicket of political
and cultural issues. "There is no doubt that the technology exists to do
[what] the government really needs to do," said Greg Christensen, director
of government sales at TIBCO Software Inc. "It is really just a matter of
EAI is an umbrella concept covering a range of tools that enable information
collaboration and sharing among multiple, disparate applications, said Tyler
McDaniel, director of application strategies at the Hurwitz Group.
Pegged at $3.8 billion last year, these technologies are expected to
yield $9.5 billion in revenue by 2005, said Joanne Correia, vice president
of the software industry research group of Dataquest Inc., a unit of Gartner
Inc. Government has not been a major market for EAI, but that was expected
to change even before the Sept. 11 attacks because of the slowdown in key
commercial markets, she said.
Most of the EAI products sold are so-called integration broker suites.
These suites bundle a comprehensive set of integration tools including adap.ters,
a communications bus, business process management and analytic tools, and
a business-to-business server, said Mark Triplett, vice president and general
manager of the federal division at Vitria Technology Inc.
Vitria, TIBCO Software, webMethods Inc., Mercator Software Inc., SeeBeyond
Technology Corp. and IBM Corp. are the top vendors of such software packages,
according to Gartner Dataquest.
An adapter connects an application, such as enterprise resource planning
(ERP), to the communications bus and translates the information from that
application into a data format compatible with the system to which it will
For example, it could convert information from a legacy application
in Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) to Extensible Markup Language (XML)
so it can connect to newer applications using XML, Triplett said.
The communications bus, commonly referred to as message-oriented middleware,
then "broadcasts" that data to an application or applications on a point-to-point
or publish-subscribe basis. In the latter, information is "published" on
a "channel" that includes only subscriber applications or those that are
involved in the particular transaction.
For example, there could be an order invoice channel, and when there
is a new order ready to be invoiced, that information would be published
on this channel and only those applications involved in the new order invoice
process would be informed, Trip.lett said.
Business process automation technology then "takes the input from the
ëpublisher' and...makes sure...the ësubscribers' are getting the information,"
Triplett explained, adding that business analytic tools provide the end
user with a view of the entire process.
Finally, a business-to-business integration server extends the EAI beyond
the enterprise to include trading partners.
"It is just like one more connector" that would allow "my supply chain
management system to talk to my supplier's ERP system," Triplett said. He
added that the business-to-business integration server includes a trading
partner registry with "rules of how to communicate with your trading partners,"
including data format and security requirements.
Integration broker suites are by no means the only EAI offerings available.
"There are a lot of point products out there" that can, for example, only
translate EDI to XML, Triplett said.
Then there are companies, such as Candle Corp., that use straight-through
processing, which transmits data through the network without a communications
bus, Correia noted.
Candle offers network-oriented integration focusing on "transactions
that go across multiple divisions," said Candle's chief executive officer,
Aubrey Chernick, noting that the company also provides business service
management to assist with the collaboration.
There are also those who eschew the EAI model entirely.
The government needs "to rethink how...[it has] siloed informationÖbut
the way we are going to get about that is not by wiring a lot of stuff together
with middleware," said Kevin Fitzgerald, senior vice president and general
manager of Oracle Corp.'s public-sector unit. Instead, he advocates migrating
the data from applications into "a secure data store...and providing ad hoc
Regardless of the approach, any effort to boost data sharing will face
a mix of technological and cultural challenges.
There are the fundamental issues involved in connecting applications
that "have been developed very independently," said Leif Ulstrup, vice president
of American Management Systems Inc. "They could be as mundane as different
field lengths for first and last names, but those sorts of issues can multiply
in fairly significant ways."
Security "is where things really tend to bog down," said Michael Fox,
vice president of corporate development at SRA International Inc. "Whenever
you need to take data off a system...you are automatically in a position where
you have to worry who has access [and] what level of access they have and...
can we control it?"
Funding is also critical, Fox said. "People are now expecting to get
some funds to address the situation, but the question is, how long are these
funds going to last?" he said. "When you are working a long-term technology
development, money is crucial."
The cost of these implementations "start around $100,000 and go right
into the millions," according to Al Fox, director of public-sector operations
Then there are the cultural barriers. The intelligence and law enforcement
communities do not readily relinquish information they have gathered, noted
SRA's Fox. Such cultural issues extend far beyond the nation's capital to
state and local agencies, which many observers believe form the front line
in the battle against terrorism.
Although state and federal agencies have shared information, "it has
gone largely one way from the states to the federal government," said Steve
Kolodney, vice president of state and local solutions at AMS.
McKenna is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay area.