Wisconsin rides enterprise bus to savings

"If the private sector doesn't take on and shoulder the responsibility for standards, we will not be able to achieve collaboration."

Matt Miszewski, Wisconsin Division of Enterprise Technology administrator and state chief information officer

"America's Dairyland" has gone online to improve collaboration between its state and local government agencies.

The Wisconsin Division of Enterprise Technology, driven by frustration over how to integrate data and applications among executive branch agencies, launched a search last year for a solution that could improve the efficiency of government operations and facilitate information sharing, said Werner Gade, section chief of enterprise infrastructure at the Division of Enterprise Technology.

In June, the division invited several companies to make presentations on the concept of an enterprise service bus, or ESB, and how it could help the state achieve its goals, Gade said.

ESB is open-standards-based messaging middleware that provides secure interoperability among enterprise applications via extensible markup language, Web-services interfaces and standardized rules-based routing of documents. Because sharing data through ESB doesn't depend on the data format, application and data integration is much easier to achieve.

The division invited Cape Clear Software Inc. of Waltham, Mass., to conduct a proof-of-concept pilot involving procurement systems. The pilot's goal was to take disparate systems and demonstrate how ESB could easily gather data and provide a report of procurement activity across multiple agencies, Gade said.

Following the successful pilot in September 2003, the state implemented the solution in March, he said.

As Wisconsin has grown comfortable with Web services technologies, it has extended the approach to other areas of government, said Annrai O'Toole, Cape Clear's chief executive officer.

The state purchased the Cape Clear Studio and Cape Clear Server products, as well as ClientSoft ServiceBuilder, a third-party software available through Cape Clear, Gade said. Although the two companies helped set up the software, the state handled the integration itself, Gade said.

The total cost of the ESB solution was about $300,000, he said.

The ESB approach has prompted discussions of sharing data, reducing applications development costs and breaking down barriers between information systems, Gade said. Many parts of Wisconsin's government are realizing the potential to cut costs by using shared or common services and data, he said.

So far, the state has identified 16 initiatives that would improve data sharing among its agencies and between state and local agencies, including a grant tracking system, an interface between accounting and purchasing systems and the sharing of criminal justice information, said Matt Miszewski, Wisconsin Division of Enterprise Technology administrator and state chief information officer.

One of the most far-reaching initiatives is the Wisconsin Justice Information Sharing initiative, or WJIS. ESB would support a secure gateway through which hundreds of state and local law enforcement officials could log on to the system, said Bonnie Locke, WJIS director.

The gateway is in the design and development stage, and the state hopes to unveil a prototype within six to 12 months, she said.

Integrating applications and sharing information among disparate systems are some of the chief needs of state government, Miszewski said. Along with small software companies such as Cape Clear, large companies such as IBM Corp. of Armonk, N.Y., and Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Wash., are embracing the ESB concept, he said.
The private sector should take heed of the importance of the standards-based approach embodied in ESB, Miszewski said.

"If the private sector doesn't take on and shoulder the responsibility for standards, we will not be able to achieve collaboration," he said.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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