By this point, I hope you're convinced that XML has tremendous potential to revolutionize the way eBusiness works. While potential is great, what really counts are actual results in the marketplace. This section describes three case studies in which organizations have used XML to streamline their business processes and improve their results.
All of the case studies discussed here come from IBM's jStart program. The jStart team exists to help customers use new technologies to solve problems. When a customer agrees to a jStart engagement, the customer receives IBM consulting and development services at a discount, with the understanding that the resulting project will be used as a case study. If you'd like to see more case studies, including case studies involving Web services and other new technologies, visit the jStart Web page at ibm.com/software/jstart.
Be aware that the jStart team is no longer doing engagements for XML projects; the team's current focus is Web services engagements. Web services use XML in a specialized way, typically through the SOAP, WSDL, and UDDI standards mentioned earlier in Web services.
Figure 2. Province of Manitoba
The government of the Province of Manitoba created the Personal Property Registry to provide property owners with state-of-the-art Internet services around the clock. The main benefits of the application were faster and more convenient access to property data, fewer manual steps in the property management process, and fewer calls to the government's call center. In other words, giving customers better service while saving the government money and reducing the government's workload.
The application was designed as an n -tiered application, with the interface separated from the back-end logic. The data for each transaction needed to be transformed a number of different ways, depending on how it needed to be rendered on a device, presented to an application, or formatted for the back-end processing system. In other words, the application was a perfect opportunity to use XML.
As with any application, the user interface to the application was extremely important. To simplify the first implementation, the necessary XML data was transformed into HTML. This gave users a browser interface to the application. The registry was built with VisualAge for Java, specifically the Visual Servlet Builder component. It also uses Enterprise Java Beans (EJBs), including Session beans and Entity beans.
In addition to the HTML interface, a Java client interface and a B2B electronic interface were planned as well. For all of these interfaces, the structured XML data is transformed into the appropriate structures and documents. The initial rollout of the service allowed one business partner, Canadian Securities Registration Systems, to submit XML transaction data using the Secure Sockets Layer. The XML transaction data was transformed into the appropriate format for the back-end transactions.
The end result is that the Province of Manitoba was able to create a flexible new application and their end users could access the property registry more easily and quickly. Because the province uses XML as the data format, the government IT team has a great deal of flexibility in designing new interfaces and access methods. Best of all, the back-end systems didn't have to change at all.
Figure 3. First Union banks on XML
First Union National Bank, one of the largest banks in the U.S., is in the process of reengineering many of its applications using Java and XML. Like most large companies, its environment is heterogeneous, with OS/390, AIX, Solaris, HP/9000, and Windows NT servers and Windows NT, Windows 98, Solaris, and AIX clients. Given this environment, First Union chose Java for platform-independent code and XML for platform-independent data.
The bank's distributed applications are built on a messaging infrastructure, using IBM's MQSeries to deliver messages to the OS/390 system. The message content is based on a specification called the Common Interface Message (CIM), a First Union proprietary standard. Both the front-end and back-end components of the application are dependent on the message format. Using XML as the data format isolates both sides of the application from future changes and additions to the messaging protocol.
In developing this XML-based application, the First Union and IBM team created a service that converts the CIM into an XML document. Another part of the application converts the XML request into the appropriate format for the back-end processing systems. Finally, a third service converts COBOL copy books into DTDs. Once the copy book has been converted into a DTD, First Union can use the DTD and the XML4J parser to validate the XML document automatically; the bank can then be sure that the XML document matches the COBOL data structure that OS/390 expects.
Using Java technology and XML has been very successful for First Union. According to Bill Barnett, Manager of the Distributed Object Integration Team at First Union, "The combination of Java and XML really delivered for us. Without a platform-independent environment like Java and the message protocol independence we received from the use of XML, we would not have the confidence that our distributed infrastructure could evolve to meet the demand from our ever-growing customer base."
Figure 4. Hewitt Associates LLC
Hewitt Associates LLC is a global management consulting firm that specifies in human resource solutions. The company has more than 200 corporate clients worldwide; those companies in turn have more than 10 million employees. Hewitt's clients demand timely, accurate delivery of human resources information for those 10 million employees.
Prior to its jStart engagement, Hewitt built custom, proprietary solutions when its clients requested human resources data. Those custom solutions were typically gateways to Hewitt's existing legacy applications; in some cases, the solutions dealt with the actual byte streams. These custom applications were very costly to develop, test, and deploy, leading Hewitt to investigate Web services.
To solve these problems, Hewitt and the jStart team worked together to build Web services to address the needs of Hewitt's customers. Web services are a new kind of application that uses XML in a number of interesting ways:
- First of all, Web services typically use SOAP, an XML standard for moving XML data from one place to another.
- Secondly, the interfaces provided by a Web service (method names, parameters, data types, etc.) are described with XML.
- Next, a Web service's description can be stored in or retrieved from a UDDI registry; all of the information that goes into or comes out of the registry is formatted as XML.
- Finally, the data that is provided by the Web service is itself XML.
Hewitt has delivered two applications that illustrate their ability to deliver data in more flexible ways:
- With the Secure Participant Mailbox, authorized users can request reports containing personalized information on retirement and other employee benefits.
- With the Retirement Access B2B Connection, authorized users can get details of a client's 401(k) financial information.
Both of these applications retrieve data from existing legacy systems, use XML to format the data, and deliver the formatted information across the Web. Because these applications are built on open standards, Hewitt can deliver them quickly. Best of all, the flexibility of these applications helps Hewitt distinguish itself from its competitors.
"We see Web services as the vehicle to provide open, non-proprietary access to our participant business services and data through a ubiquitous data network," said Tim Hilgenberg, Chief Technology Strategist at Hewitt. The end result: Hewitt develops more flexible applications faster and cheaper, clients get better access to their data, and Hewitt's existing legacy applications don't have to change.
In all of these case studies, companies used XML to create a system-independent data format. The XML documents represent structured data that can be moved from one system or process to another. As front-end and back-end applications change, the XML traveling between them remains constant. Even better, as more front-end and back-end applications are added to the mix, the use of XML insulates the existing applications from any changes. As Web services become more common, XML will also be used to transport the data.
For more information on these case studies, contact IBM's Sam Thompson at email@example.com. You can find more information on the Province of Manitoba at www.gov.mb.ca, First Union's Web site is firstunion.com, and Hewitt Associates are on the Web at hewitt.com.