Tech Success: Land Management shares records with OTS' help

IT solutions in action

Project: Well Information System

Agency: Bureau of Land Management

Partners: Office Technology Systems Inc., Wheat Ridge, Colo.; and XAware Inc., Colorado Springs, Colo.

Goal: Allow oil and gas prospectors to apply for permits online rather than through the mail.

Obstacle: The electronic systems the oil and gas companies use to keep supporting documentation were often incompatible with those run by the bureau. Even when an electronic submission process was put in place, companies still had to enter much of the data by hand. The state offices that had to review much of the paperwork had incompatible systems as well.

Solution: By using XAware's development platform for extensible markup language, OTS was able to build a common XML schema that all parties could use to exchange documents.

Payoff: The companies submitting permit applications now can receive an answer in as little as 24 hours, instead of waiting weeks.

From left, Brett Stein, OTS' solutions director, and Richard Cloutier, vice president of marketing for XAware.

Chuck Bigger

XML tool from XAware speeds integration

When the Bureau of Land Management wanted to speed the application process it had for oil and gas companies to drill on federal property, it looked to Office Technology Systems Inc., Wheat Ridge, Colo., to help it streamline operations.

Faced with getting many legacy systems to communicate, OTS turned to extensible markup language, or XML, to get the job done. XAware Inc., Colorado Springs, Colo., provided the software to make this happen.

Other integrators can use the XAware software to build XML-based exchanges between legacy databases, said Richard Cloutier, vice president of marketing for XAware. The software eliminates the need for programmers to code connections by hand, a tedious process with XML.

The Bureau of Land Management oversees about 3,000 companies that drill for oil and gas on federal property. Operators must submit paperwork to the agency for a permit to drill, according to Paul Brown, project manager for the system. The paperwork consists of forms, diagrams and other information.

Once a bureau regional office gets it, the paperwork is copied and passed around for review and approval. Data drawn from these forms is entered into the bureau's internal tracking database system, called the Automated Fluid Minerals Work System. The approval process takes anywhere from 30 days to six months.

The Bureau of Land Management wanted to modernize the system so companies could submit paperwork through the Web, and to get the approval process down to 24 hours or less.

"What we found is operators already have this information electronically, and they put it in a manual format" to submit it to the bureau, Brown said. "What we asked the contractor to do is set up a Web front end and build the interface to get the data from the Web-based application into our internal database."

The work was done as part of the operations and maintenance contract that Office Technology Systems won from the bureau. The contract is worth less than $1 million per year, Brown said.

Initially, OTS did not want to use XML for the project, planning instead to code by hand the interface that companies could use to submit the information, said Gene Thibodeau, OTS' national project coordinator. However, when the developers found some of the same information being handled also had to be copied to state regulatory agencies, they decided to use XML to standardize the document formats, so all the parties involved could use it.

Also, the companies had complained that the electronic submission system would not be compatible with many of their systems, forcing them to re-enter information by hand that they had kept electronically.

"We were looking at 3,000 different databases to interface with," Thibodeau said.

The World Wide Web Consortium developed XML as a standard for writing customized tags for documents, allowing different applications and databases to trade information.

Although XML can be written manually, several vendors offer software that automates schemas development, including Arbortext Inc., SoftLife Corp., Software AG and others.

OTS built a XML schema using XAware's XA-Suite, which allowed companies to tag the data they submitted. The Bureau of Land Management now is circulating the schema to operators and state agencies, encouraging them to send and receive information using this standard.

"What we provide is a middleware solution to connect to disparate data sources," said Brett Stein, OTS' solutions director.

The XAware's visual development environment cuts the time OTS needed to develop the schema, Thibodeau said. The software features tools that portray the data in graphical form, allowing developers to simply draw connections between data sources to establish communication paths.

"Now, we can look at a database that our technical people have never seen and, in a day, have a schema built," Thibodeau said. Doing the same by hand would take about 40 hours.

The XAware software runs from $10,000 to $50,000 per copy, depending on the configuration, Cloutier said. In the government space, the company has reseller agreements with Lockheed Martin Corp., Unisys Corp. and Mitre Corp.

Formed in 1997, privately held XAware has 30 employees. XAware is focusing on two markets for its products, government and financial services. In the government space, the company's products were used by the states of Alaska, California, Iowa and New Mexico to build data exchange systems. The software was also used by the Justice Department.

Cloutier said that the problem the bureau faced is all over the place. "They have their existing systems, and there is 20 years of business knowledge within the system, so they can't rip those systems out," he said.

If you have an innovative solution that you recently installed in a government agency, contact Staff Writer Joab Jackson at jjackson@postnewsweektech.com.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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