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Let me in: data sharing between applications is closer than you think.

A lucky few work with only one or two computer applications a day. Everyone else must navigate a variety of programs and often enter the same data into several different applications.

There must be an easier way, right? Shouldn't you be able to enter the data just once and then allow access by other applications?

COMMON USER STRATEGIES

To address this sticky issue, a variety of strategies have evolved--some of them quick and simple, others complex and expensive. Common strategies include:

* Copy/Paste. Probably the simplest way to move data between applications that support standard Microsoft Windows operating conventions, but not a suitable solution for anything more than a onetime copy of small amounts of data--and certainly not a long-term strategy.

* Export/Import. Records are typically selected and exported from one application, then imported into another, but the process can be cumbersome to set up and awkward to operate. This strategy is functional and many find it ineffective as a long-term solution.

* Custom interface using open database connectivity. When it's critical to have a transparent interface between two applications, users will sometimes have a custom application written that communicates directly with the databases where the information is stored. If these databases support the open database connectivity, or ODBC, standard, then a number of application languages can be used to reach inside the files to move the data back and forth. Examples include MS Access, Visual Basic and Visual Basic for Applications. The ODBC interface can be used for anything from ad hoc reporting to a reusable data bridge.

* Custom interface using vendor software development kit. This tends to be the most complex and expensive solution, usually involving hiring a programmer to write a custom interface using the same language as the core application, yielding a transparent result. Because of the cost and effort, this is not for the faint of heart.

NEW BREED OF APPLICATIONS

In response to the above challenges, the computing industry is adopting new technologies to make integrating applications and the underlying data much simpler.

At the center of this approach is the creation of reusable application logic using the Internet as the underlying infrastructure--and a host of buzzwords and acronyms:

* XML (eXtensible Markup Language): This establishes a standard for moving data in and out of applications by surrounding each piece of data with "tags" identifying the nature and character of the data. XML is designed especially for web documents. A number of applications already support the XML format for the movement of data.

* SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol): This XML-based messaging protocol is used to encode information before sending it over a network. SOAP messages are independent of any operating system or protocol and may be transported using various protocol, including SMTP, MIME and HTTP.

* UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration): This web-based distributed directory enables businesses to list their web services on the Internet. A UDDI registry can be thought of like a phone book for business applications and consists of two kinds of clients: businesses that want to publish a service (and its usage interfaces) and clients who want to obtain certain services and bind programmatically to them.

* .NET: .NET is not actually a single technology, but Microsoft's web services initiative. Incorporating the technologies outlined above (XML, SOAP and UDDI) into various development tools, such as Visual Studio.NET, Microsoft gives developers the ability to program and deliver their applications over the web.

Instead of installing applications on desktops, the applications are housed on the web, affording access anywhere, anytime. And instead of interacting with a single application or website, .NET allows users to connect to an array of computers and services capable of exchanging and combining objects and data.

This model also supports an environment in which software can be rented as a hosted service instead of purchased off a store shelf.

In a .NET world, the Internet houses your applications and data.

* Java: Java is a high-level programming language developed by Sun Microsystems to run in a web environment. Java and Microsoft's tools seek to provide similar functionality, including serving as strong web-based development tools, and a number of websites and applications employ Java to deliver end-user functionality.

It will take time, but look for these technologies to begin finding their way into virtually all applications, providing the capability of entering data once and allowing all affected applications access to it.

{For more information}

* eAI Journal (www.eaijournal.com). An electronic magazine devoted to application integration issues, trends and opportunities.

* "Predictions on Application Integration & Middleware" (www4.gartner.com/1_researchanalysis/rc/b2/b2_main.jsp). An article by David McCoy, vice president and research fellow at Gartner.

* Bitpipe IT Research (www.bitpipe.com). Search "application integration."

* Computer Sciences Corp. (www.csc.com). Click on "Systems Integration" for case studies, white papers and more.

* Microsoft (www.microsoft.com). Search "application integration."

by David Cieslak, CPA

David Cieslak, CPA, CITP, GSEC, is a principal with Information Technology Group, Inc. in Simi Valley. You can reach him at dcieslak@itgusa.com.
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Title Annotation:Application Integration
Author:Cieslak, David
Publication:California CPA
Date:May 1, 2004
Words:836
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