The Web-Services Legacy

Legacy systems can drive Web services, as companies leverage old data in new ways

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

July 3, 2003

3 Min Read

The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health also understands the value of legacy systems to a Web service. The department needed to make its mainframe patient information available to 2,500 professional caregivers at 200 sites around the county. The department's staff used to have to travel to the specific terminals that could give them access to mainframe systems. Now users can access the information from anywhere simply by logging on to the department's Web site.

The department left its Cobol/ CICS-based Mental Health Management Information System intact, but used logic-tracking tools to identify application functions, then built Java wrappers around those functions so that they could be called from the Web site. "It's like building a new shell around the old system," says John Campbell, division chief in charge of special projects.

Reengineering the Cobol systems "would be very high risk," he says, compared to providing wrappers, or code that selects distinct functions from the systems and makes those functions available to another server on the network.

The department used Relativity Technologies Inc.'s Modernization Workbench to trace and document the crucial business logic in Cobol applications and place the wrappers. The task was complicated by all the bolt-on functionality, patching, and modifications that had been added to the original code over the years. But the department did it, and Java applets running on a Web server can now activate the legacy code as needed, letting the department's health-care professionals work from anywhere, Campbell says.

Not all aging code that needs to become a Web service is found in mainframes; some resides in client-server systems. The Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia have a client-server student information system in 200 school buildings, keeping records on 166,000 students in an Oracle database. Some of those students fare poorly on the annual Virginia Standard of Learning test and need remedial teaching to graduate. But the results from the state test don't come in until school is out, with summer school scheduled to begin just a few days later. Knowing whether students who are in trouble have enrolled in summer school "is very critical information to a school principal," who will contact parents to urge action, says Ted Davis, director of knowledge-asset management.

Until this year, principals had to manually match up the test results with paper enrollment records on 20,000 summer students. Making matters worse, the records were often a week behind, Davis says.

This year, each principal can click on a link at his desktop to go to a new Summer School Student Report site and get up-to-the-minute enrollment data out of an Oracle database running on a Sun Solaris server. The information is retrieved through a webMethods Inc. middleware connector. The information can then be matched with the test results in the student information system.

The systems work together on the district's internal ATM network, but Davis says the browser-based approach means that next year students will be able to register for summer school online.

Legacy systems may seem hopelessly out of date, especially when new requirements like HIPAA come along. But legacy functionality tied into a new Web service can be surprisingly effective. "We're just getting started," says Gowder, of South Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services. The results of automating the state's remittance reports have been so good, he says, additional Web services for Medicaid field workers and providers are almost certainly in South Carolina's future.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights