GOVERNMENT TECHNOLOGY/Integrating software calls for flexibility
Across the country, local governments are integrating IT applications, allowing them to reconfigure services to allow residents to conduct business over the Internet. They are recognizing that proper planning and mapping of strategies are the only ways to ensure that integration initiatives do not dissolve in a mix of complexity and confusion.
Most local government forays into application integration begin with the purchase of message-oriented middleware (MOM) software, such as MQSeries by Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM, Rendezvous by Palo Alto, Calif.-based TIBCO and MSMQ by Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft. Those applications allow agencies to translate software languages and connect heterogeneous applications. However, they do not communicate with one another easily, and they therefore can complicate the IT environment for agencies that try to use more than one.
In light of that problem, the natural inclination for some IT managers is to pick one common database for use by all agencies. That solution eliminates the requirement for middleware integration. Alternatively, some IT managers might choose to use only one MOM to coordinate several different databases.
The database standardization approach is expensive, because it requires local governments to buy large quantities of new technology and to train workers to use those tools. Furthermore, because it requires discarding installed systems, the “out-with-the-old” approach often deprives agencies of valuable legacy applications. (That approach forces agencies to take down existing online applications that residents have become accustomed to using. As a result, agencies appear to be taking a step backwards in their e-government initiatives.)
The effect of discarding proven legacy applications that support several other applications can be significantly more damaging than discarding applications that function independently. Walking away from a core application can send ripple effects throughout the IT processing function, making it impossible to provide a whole series of dependent e-government and traditional services.
Adopting a single MOM approach is more viable than standardizing databases, but it ultimately is flawed. Consider what happens when a new and better technology comes onto the scene: One agency might want to invest in new technology to better support its business, but, if the technology does not work with the local government’s MOM, the agency would be prohibited from making that investment.
Rather than requiring every agency to use a single database or MOM technology, IT managers can leverage a middleware-for-middleware (MFM) approach to create a flexible enterprise IT backbone. That approach allows agencies to connect existing platforms and databases to reconfigure technologies and deliver e-government applications. MFM effectively translates among any type of MOM, so agencies can continue to use installed databases, platforms and middleware.
MFM provides direct access to legacy code and processes. It allows agencies to integrate data and application calls seamlessly across various infrastructures, reducing the amount of time it takes to process residents’ online transactions and reducing the cost of making online services available.
Residents may feel the sting of obsolete approaches to IT architecture as they wait in line to access basic services, but the absence of a strategic IT vision will be significantly more painful for residents and agencies. Considering strategic IT architecture issues and investing accordingly will allow local governments to improve both e-government and traditional services now and in the future.
The author is senior director of the Government Crisis and Continuity Management Program for El Segundo, Calif.-based Candle.