This column was written by Trevor Matz is managing director, Enterprise Application Integration, for InterSystems Corporation, a founding member of the EAI Consortium and a technology innovator in business integration with the Ensemble universal business integration platform. Before joining InterSystems, Matz was president and CEO of a leading systems integration and groupware development company. With more than 18 years of experience in the IT industry, Matz is recognized as one of the pioneers of networking and integration in multiple international markets.

Part one of this two-part series, examined the evolution of EAI technology approaches, discussed the need for universal business integration (UBI) and outlined the challenges that a UBI platform must address. Part two provides an example of how one large organization has successfully used UBI technology to rapidly achieve critical objectives.

It's clear that a UBI approach is attractive as a concept. That's why multiple vendors including BEA, IBM and InterSystems are focused on UBI. But what happens when the concept must be transformed into executable code in a real-world IT organization? Following is an example of what happened to one early adopter of UBI technology.

When the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) created an innovative information integration strategy designed to optimize services delivery to millions of clients statewide, the vision was clear. "We want to integrate the information in 59 different applications running on a variety of operating platforms into a composite portal application that provides a single view of all relevant data about an individual client," explains Ben Harris, deputy secretary operations and information technology for DCF. The largest agency in Florida, DCF serves a statewide population with a variety of programs designed to provide care and support for Florida's most vulnerable citizens, including abused and neglected children, the elderly and disabled, and those who are physically and mentally challenged or substance dependent.

Over the years, agency programs were implemented on hardware platforms that ranged from IBM mainframes to PCs and data repositories that included Microsoft SQL, Oracle, IMS, DB2, Access and Visual FoxPro as well as InterSystems' Caché. Service providers were working with a series of disparate applications, with no common interface and without any means of easily tying together all of the information that might be relevant for each individual. In some instances, the result could be unnecessary duplication of overlapping services. In other cases, individuals might not receive all of the appropriate services because care providers are unaware of all of the circumstances of a given client. "Information is critical to enabling these clients to receive optimal services delivery from their caregivers," says Harris.

After examining multiple integration technology solutions, DCF opted to become an early adopter of InterSystems' Ensemble UBIP. "Other solutions weren't able to provide the ability to access information at the data layer and application layer as well as though Web Services - whichever is most appropriate," comments Harris. Inclusion of a high performance object database, RAD environment and support for sophisticated reporting in real-time mode were additional factors in the decision to use Ensemble for enterprise integration.

"Ensemble uniquely offers the all-in-one solution we needed to integrate information and applications, create reports across our 59 systems and leverage new technologies that could easily combine legacy information with new screens," Harris says. By seamlessly integrating the information in DCF's OneFamily application series, Ensemble will enable the agency to ensure that clients receive the best possible level of service from their community-based providers.

Live in 90 Days

Leveraging Ensemble's comprehensive functionality, DCF developers created a test bed integrating information from five systems. The composite application was rapidly prototyped and, after a series of reviews that included a presentation to Governor Jeb Bush, went live just 90 days after project initiation. "We were extremely pleased that our end users were able to access the information from the integrated applications so quickly on a production basis. It's already evident that the single view of client data and the ability to quickly create reports across multiple systems that Ensemble has made possible will enable us to take a holistic approach to care for our clients," Harris says.

Building on the success of the initial project, DCF is mounting an aggressive development and deployment initiative. Scheduled for completion this year are implementation of a single consumer wait list interface across the 16 program areas, development of a unique identifier that will be common for all 59 systems and will allow common registration for all clients and establishment of real-time connectivity to the FLORIDA database - the largest IMS database in the world.

Measurable Payback

In addition to improving services delivery, the Ensemble integration project is delivering concrete returns on DCF's technology investment, according to Harris. "With as much as 80 percent of needed information already existing in our legacy systems, the cost to rewrite all 59 systems would run to hundreds of millions of dollars," he says. "By integrating the legacy information with new screens accessed by an Ensemble-based composite application, we'll save more than 90 percent of that potential cost."

On a smaller scale, Harris points to one of the systems that is part of the integration initiative that uses an Oracle database. "By utilizing Ensemble, we'll be able to cut support requirements typically required by legacy relational technology by half and achieve a 50 percent savings for some applications," he says.

"In summary, what began as an integration project has actually become an enterprise information architecture that is successful for DCF and, most critically, successful for the consumers whom we serve."

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