Article

Hosted app readies legacy data for Web services

Eric B. Parizo, Executive Editor

There are often a number of barriers to overcome before implementing a Web service, but Datawatch Corp. doesn't want legacy data conversion to be one of them. To that end, one of its customers has used its VorteXML document conversion software to build a Web-based application that converts text files into Web service-ready XML documents.

Expert Systems Consulting Ltd., a Canton, Ohio-based professional services firm that supports U.S. electrical fixture distributors, wanted to enable its own customers to display invoices and purchase orders on the Web in XML form.

Scott Voltz, ESC's director of product development and support, said that each customer's unique architecture would have required writing four or five COBOL programs just to extract data from their databases, not to mention the work needed to properly format data on a continuing basis.

Instead, ESC used Datawatch's VorteXML Designer and Server as the foundation for ESC Docs, a hosted application designed to do the job more efficiently. ESC started by using the Designer desktop tool to create custom, reusable templates that extract and map data from text documents into XML.

For instance, when a customer's systems output a file that must be translated into XML, it is routed into ESC Docs and sorted into a virtual bin based on its contents.

Each bin is "labeled" by customer and then by document type, and has a template assigned to it. The architecture is flexible, said Voltz, because, "if a

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customer outputs a new or different kind of file, we'd create a new template for it."

"[Customers] don't want canned style sheets. They want something totally unique to them," Voltz added. "So they work with us on the layout and how they want to see it." Even though the template itself is used over and over, every document is tailored to each customer's requirement.

Then, at the designated processing time -- typically at the end of the day -- the VorteXML Server uses the templates to create XML files based on each document's contents. Within minutes, Voltz said, the finished XML files are ready to be published to a secure Web site or accessed via a Web service.

"The parsing technology is taking the headers and the footers and the details of this structured text and pulling it out," said John Kitchen, senior vice president with Lowell, Mass.-based Datawatch. "We're creating a three-dimensional view of that [document]."

Since occasional conversion errors are unavoidable, Kitchen said, the VorteXML Server borrows from Windows server technology and includes error logging that provides notifications and detailed error logs when problems occur.

Voltz said his 70-employee company is always competing with larger professional services firms. The VorteXML-powered application requires minimal tweaking to customers' legacy systems, and being able to provide that is a significant competitive advantage because many customers don't have their own IT staffs.

ESC was able to implement the VorteXML Server in about an hour using existing hardware. Most of its customers use the same formats for their documents, so Voltz said ESC was able to use the Designer to create one template that accommodates 80% of its customers. He said building a template takes about 90 minutes, and customizing it requires just a few more minutes of work.

Depending on the size and frequency of a customer's XML conversions, pricing for ESC Docs service runs from $100 to $200 each month. A one-time development fee of $500 to $1,000 may also apply, depending on the complexity of the initial setup.

Datawatch prices VorteXML Designer at $599, and VorteXML Server is $7,999 per server.

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