N.C. translates agency system

Faced with a lean budget and the loss of institutional knowledge, officials

in North Carolina's Justice Department decided rather than build a new information

technology infrastructure from scratch, they would transform the system's

ancient computer language to a more flexible, modern vernacular.

With the help of software developed by Relativity Technologies Inc.,

a Cary, N.C.-based company that specializes in "legacy modernization," the

department (www.jus.state.nc.us) was able to map the system's code logic

and mine out its business processes in the form of reusable components,

said Vivek Wadhwa, the company's chief executive officer.

The department recently announced successfully transforming a permit

application for concealed handguns from its old Unisys Corp. Cobol-based

architecture to Java, enabling the application to be available on the Web.

The department is using a Microsoft Corp. Windows NT applications server

with an Oracle Corp. database residing on a Sun Microsystems Inc. Solaris

Unix Cluster Server, Candle Corp.'s CandleNet eBusiness middleware and Extensible

Markup Language.

Wadhwa said that as mainframes age, the number of people who can maintain

them shrinks. As a result, the business processes, regulations, rules and

other information become "locked" within them. "You don't know why the system

works the way it did," he explained.

His company's tool helps take hundreds of thousands, if not millions,

of lines of code and graphically illustrates "exactly how the system works...almost

draws a blueprint of your system," he said, adding that the process took

about six to seven months for North Carolina.

The process to modernize the aging system began about five years ago

when George Bakolia — then the department's chief information officer and

now the state CIO — saw problems down the road.

"The longer we waited, the [more] we were losing the key programmers,

[who] had developed these programs, either through retirement or through

compensation issues," he said. "I can currently tap in to the college skill

set, bring them onboard and can successfully support my new infrastructure,

[which is] based on Java, is XML-driven and handles middleware. Whereas

with Cobol, it'll be almost impossible to find that skill set."

It's also difficult to secure multimillion-dollar funding for a complete

system overhaul, he said. It's much easier to recycle components of applications

from the old system and translate them into a modern code. Bakolia said

the department has estimated that its operations budget will be reduced

"by a minimum [of] 35 percent."

"The other issue is that the system is key to the support for all law

enforcement in the state of North Carolina and across the country because

it links to the FBI systems, it links to all other state systems that deal

with law enforcement in the entire country," he said. "So as we try to make

changes that are required of federal mandates for various purposes — whether

a new federal bill was introduced, the legislative initiatives in Washington

and homeland security legislation — it would be hard to go and enhance

these systems because there is no one to do it."


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