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5/20/2004
06:44 PM
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XML Plays Big Integration Role

Drawing from its experience with a customer, Software AG delivers a unique offering for integrating legacy-system data

Until earlier this year, CompuCredit Corp. faced a big challenge managing the information it held on 3.5 million customers, which was scattered across more than 100 systems and databases. When holders of the company's Aspire Visa and other credit cards called customer service, the calls were too lengthy and sometimes unproductive. The system required customer-service representatives to toggle back and forth between applications, which hindered key goals such as convincing a customer to commit to a new payment while on the phone.

It was a problem CompuCredit could no longer ignore. "There were many underlying inefficiencies in our old architecture [and] a serious risk of impairing our business growth," says CompuCredit CIO Guido Sacchi.

CompuCredit implemented a solution to the problem in January, co-developed with Software AG Inc. The credit-card issuer now boasts the ability to treat its legacy systems as Web services, so that data pulled from them can be combined into a single view for customer-service reps.

CompuCredit is using an XML standards-based approach to integration that retrieves data from mainframe applications, databases, and other systems through Software AG's software connectors and adapters. The information is converted from its native format into XML data and then moved over an XML-based messaging system (sometimes called an enterprise service bus, as it can connect many parts of the software infrastructure).

Now a customer-service rep can see a cardholder's payment history, the status of the most recent payment, and credit score, all in one view. Because of the improved system, customer-service reps collecting payments can more quickly conduct a transfer of funds from a customer's bank account to CompuCredit. The average length of customer calls has dropped by 30 seconds, to four minutes, and more calls are resulting in payments, which has improved the company's revenue flow, Sacchi says.


WHEN ONE VIEW IS BETTER THAN TWO
Software AG&'s XML Business Integration Portfolio includes three products that address integration

Enterprise Legacy Integrator
Supplies the connectors and adapters that allow mainframe applications and databases to be exposed as Web services without having to rewrite code



Enterprise Service Integrator
Supplies an enterprise-service bus based on XML messaging to connect legacy applications and databases to new, composite applications



Enterprise Information Integrator
Supplies a gateway to provide business users, such as customer-service representatives, with a combined view of data derived from multiple systems

The partnership also proved to be a success for Software AG. Drawing from its experience with CompuCredit, the vendor last week introduced a set of products called XML Business Integration Portfolio. The product set is expected to compete with integration and enterprise-service-bus products offered by middleware vendors such as IBM, Sonic Software, and Tibco Software, with offerings that were developed with proprietary technologies, not XML-based standards. Vendors such as Ipedo Inc. and Xiasoft Inc. offer XML database systems but not enterprise-service buses.

Software AG's approach of combining integration and enterprise-service bus technologies with its Tamino XML database could give it a competitive advantage. "Other vendors have part of this portfolio; it's the combined aspect that's new," says Ron Schmelzer, an analyst at ZapThink, an XML-oriented research firm.

The standards-based approach of basing an enterprise-service bus on an XML messaging service is likely to wear well in the future, says Anne Manes, Web-services analyst at the Burton Group.

"Many other enterprise-service buses are based on proprietary protocols," Manes says, so only systems where the proprietary software is installed can be integrated. The proprietary approach also makes it difficult to allow integration with systems outside a company, such as with a business partner, she says.

CompuCredit, meanwhile, has more plans for how it will use Software AG's XML-based technologies. By the end of the summer, Sacchi hopes to have a fraud-detection system in place that can cross-check more than 50 CompuCredit data sources.

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