A winning wager

Las Vegas turns to SOA to keep pace with growth

Las Vegas isn't just a town where tourists
come to win and lose fortunes. It is one of
America's fastest-growing cities.

In 1980, the population was
165,000 ? it is now approaching 600,000.
In an effort to keep up with that growth, city
officials have aggressively updated computer
systems and software that help deliver
municipal services.

"Because the city of Las Vegas
is growing so quickly, we can't keep
doing processes in a slow, old-fashioned
way," said Patricia Dues,
Las Vegas' enterprise program
manager. "That's one of
the reasons we may move a
little faster than other public-
sector organizations
when it comes to
implementing service-oriented
architecture."

The city worked with
Innowave Technology LLC of
Irvine, Calif., in introducing Oracle
BPEL Process Manager, a component
of Oracle Fusion Middleware,
to integrate various applications
and business processes. The city
had previously installed the Oracle
E-Business Suite to improve financial and
human resources management. The BPEL
Process Manager was recently used to
streamline business processes at the city's
Water Pollution Control Facility.

A major project included upgrading a computerized
application that monitors all the
plant's equipment and city sewers. Computers
and software at the monitoring
sites ? and the networks they run
on ? also were upgraded.

In addition, the water-testing lab and the
section in charge of preventive maintenance
and work orders needed new software.

The final
piece of the project
was integrating those
systems and databases, Dues
said. "Not only did we need to make
sure that all those applications
could talk to each other and share
information, but they also had to
integrate back to the city's Oracle
E-Business suite."

Automated approach

To achieve that goal, city officials focused on
SOA and Oracle's Fusion Middleware. SOA is
designed to make it easy to integrate systems
via a common architecture.

In many cases, organizations use Oracle's
Business Process Execution Language
(BPEL) to automate workflows, so besides
the technology shift, there's also a cultural
impact, said Peter Doolan, Oracle Corp.'s vice
president of sales consulting for the public
sector.

The Environmental Protection Agency has
water quality guidelines and rules Las Vegas
must follow, so automating monitoring at the
wastewater facility was one of the first things
city officials did.

"Rather than have a person looking at a
dial or a printout, why can't we have a computer
system constantly monitoring the
information coming from the sensors?"
Doolan asked. "If we begin to approach any
sort of threshold, then [the system] kicks off
an automated or human process immediately
rather than having to wait until after the
fact."

The old method

The system gives more real-time command
and control of certain key business
processes.

Before using a SOA, the city's information
technology systems were connected the way
organizations traditionally achieve connections,
by programmers writing interfaces.

They would write the code, fix the data
fields, set up tables and write an interface for
each application. Then the interfaces would
be tested repeatedly until they worked ?
often for years.

Having all the city's systems tightly integrated
is the key to keeping up with the
around-the-clock workload at the water
plant.

When workers need to order equipment,
for example, they go to the inventory person
and check out the parts. The new software
monitors whether the plant is running low
on specific parts, and if they are in short supply,
the system automatically reorders them.

Rather than training everyone on Oracle
purchasing requisitions, city officials do it all
behind the scenes using BPEL.

"A trigger sends a requisition over to
Oracle purchasing," Dues said. "That requisition
for the part is all completed electronically.
It goes through the approval process
that we set up with the city, and as soon as it
gets ordered, a purchase order is sent out."

When the item arrives, the plant's software
automatically notifies the accounting department
through the Oracle system that the item
was received, and when the vendor's invoice
arrives, it is automatically paid.

"They tried for about two years to manually
write an interface to do this work, [but]
between the vendor and the city's application,
we just couldn't get it to work," Dues
said. "With BPEL, we did all this integration
within 10 weeks."

Those software systems are also tied to the
city's human resources data. With that information,
the salary of the person who orders
the equipment can be included in calculating
the total cost of the work: the cost of material
plus the cost of performing the work. That
data is used to better manage the plant and
ensure the most efficient possible use of
resources.

Faster and simpler

Las Vegas officials are using the workflows
developed at the water plant as templates to
create new interfaces at other departments.

"There are a lot of transactions that are
being carried through all this work," Dues
said. "We're just using it right now to speed
up our operations and simplify our programming
area."

Doug Beizer (dbeizer@1105govinfo.com) is a staff
writer at Washington Technology.

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