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Tech Guide: Web Services Ease Data Congestion

PHH Arval chose a hybrid solution to free information from legacy systems
Tech Guide Tracking more than a million vehicles worldwide could have led to a giant traffic jam of information. Instead, PHH Arval integrated its legacy systems using Web services, making its operations flow smoothly.

The company, which specializes in vehicle-fleet-management services for corporations, government, and service companies, had amassed a tangle of information about drivers, vehicle registration, insurance, fuel, new cars, and other aspects of fleet leasing. But the data was trapped in an IBM OS/390, accessible only through applications based on the Cobol programming language and other legacy technologies. Entering information required clerks to read paper reports and key in data.

PHH's challenge: How best to free information locked in a legacy system for new Web-services-based applications? In devising an integration plan, the company initially focused on information about the more than half-million drivers who were leasing vehicles from PHH. That database sat at the center of a web of interrelated data, policies, and resources affecting leasing operations. For example, an address change by drivers can affect where they store their vehicles, their vehicle licenses and taxes, and insurance premiums.

Consequently, plans called for Web-based technology that would automate such processes, so that new information instantly flowed throughout the entire system.

"We wanted to make these systems behave as a unified whole," says Joshua Stuart, PHH's VP of enterprise architecture. "We were looking at addressing all kinds of applications with a service-oriented architecture, so we decided to pursue a middleware strategy."

PHH chose a hybrid solution, deploying an enterprise application integration platform from SeeBeyond Technology Corp., combined with IBM WebSphere messaging infrastructure. Backed by a half-dozen developers representing expertise in mainframe systems, Java programming, and Web applications, a small team from PHH and SeeBeyond installed the technology in about six months.

Now, SeeBeyond's eGate integrator system converts data from the mainframe into XML, a standard programming language used on the Web. Then a WebSphere message broker routes the information to Sybase Inc. databases, which are linked to various applications. The information flows through the PHH portal, which makes appropriate parts of the data accessible to employees, suppliers, partners, and customers.

According to PHH, the cost of the project was about $1.1 million, which includes about $750,000 in software. Maintenance costs for the system are less than $50,000 annually.

With the new system, authorized PHH clients with Internet service and Web browsers can enter their own information into the system. Previously, only PHH employees could access the company's mainframe to enter data.

The system instantly updates relevant applications and databases, making it much more efficient than the old batch system of updates, in which new information is collected until distributed at set time periods. Keeping real-time information allows PHH to avoid headaches such as shipping new vehicles to wrong addresses, which would incur shipping costs and create delivery delays.

With the new integration platform, PHH has the infrastructure in place to reintegrate, rather than rewrite, its legacy technology for new applications. The company estimates that its new "reusable" infrastructure will save $2 million in future development costs and, last year, it helped avoid $100,000 in technology development and testing costs.

Moreover, the integration system allows the company to take a giant step toward creating a truly unified IT structure that includes ways to centralize policy and business logic. The new system has simplified the auditing process and eliminated some training requirements. The company says the automatic updating of information reduces the number of data-input mistakes.

With its legacy data freed for other uses, the company has been developing more applications. Says Stuart, "We continue to leverage as well as reuse."

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