CATEGORY: Web Analytics & Web Services

REVIEWER: John Kroah, president of Expert Systems Consulting.

BACKGROUND: Expert Systems Consulting, Ltd., (ESC), of Canton, Ohio, was founded more than seven years ago as a provider of software, support and Web application services to the electrical products distribution market. Since that time, ESC has grown to locations in seven major metropolitan areas across the U.S., offering a range of software and integration products increasingly standardized on .NET, SOAP and XML.

PLATFORMS: VorteXML Server from Datawatch is running on a dedicated Dell model, dual Pentium IV, 1.2GHz Server, with a gigabyte of RAM and Windows 2000 software with SP3.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Many of our customers use a COBOL-based legacy ERP system to generate business documents and increasingly need to present and distribute legacy data, reports, invoices, purchase orders and spreadsheets online. In particular, we had several customers who wanted to offer their best contractors the ability to view current account information online 24x7, resulting in better service for the contractors and much less overhead for our customers. The problem was that the only reliable source for account information was the existing print stream of customer business documents – and manually converting each customer's business document output into XML from their COBOL system was cost prohibitive. VorteXML solved this problem by allowing us to transform our customers' existing business document output to valid XML, without programming, for presentment on the Web and for integration into Web services applications. The end result is our ESC DOCS service, which we believe to be the industry's first XML data conversion ASP service. Driven by VorteXML, ESC DOCS delivers a competitive advantage to our customers by enabling them to offer Web services to their favored contractors, who are increasingly relying on technology to get their jobs done.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Using VorteXML enables us to automate the conversion of various business documents, including invoices and purchase orders, into valid XML without any change to the existing legacy system. VorteXML's powerful data recognition and conversion engine easily overcomes any difficulties parsing variable address lines, addressing inconsistent invoice details and recognizing financial number formats. VorteXML also eliminates the need for any custom programming, saving us – and our customers – a tremendous amount of time, money and resources. Going forward, we expect to be utilizing VorteXML's ability to easily map text data to any DTD or XDR schema for future Web services applications we are developing.

STRENGTHS: As cited earlier, VorteXML's primary strengths are its ability to use existing, proven legacy system output and convert that into valid XML without programming or knowledge of the intricacies of the underlying legacy system. This is followed closely by its powerful automation capabilities and ease of use. In particular, it does not take a lot of effort to schedule new jobs. Other strengths include low cost, stability, fast processing of large data sets, the ability to accept SOAP messages for .NET and Java integration, and MSDE and SQL Server integration.

WEAKNESSES: VorteXML supports DTD and XDR, but not XSD schemas, though Datawatch has informed us this will be addressed in the next upgrade. VorteXML Server also requires Windows 2000, IIS and SQL Server.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Major selection criteria included ease of use – we couldn't commit to a huge learning curve. We also selected VorteXML because the Designer application is so well integrated with the server software. VorteXML's major advantage over other solutions is that it is easy to develop the end-user solutions required by our customers without the laborious and time-consuming process of writing code against the legacy COBOL systems.

DELIVERABLES: VorteXML deliverables include the valid XML data we want (generated from existing sources without programming) and the legacy system data conversion templates. More importantly, we can then use these deliverables to quickly deploy specialized Web services for our customers, without getting stuck on how to generate XML or convert data into XML through programming.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Datawatch support has been excellent. The company has always been there for us, and even hosted our team for a one-and-a-half-day visit to its headquarters. The best part of working with Datawatch is that support is always available, and the company opened up all of its resources to us to for success.

DOCUMENTATION: VorteXML documentation is complete and easy to understand, and relying on it was exactly how we initially got VorteXML up and running.

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