By Peter Prager
Data exchange between different platforms, such as HP 3000s and Windows workstations, is complex, requiring significant knowledge and investment.
As vendors have tried to further protect their intellectual property with proprietary data formats, the challenge of exchanging data in a heterogeneous computing environment involving a variety of platforms has been growing over the years.
This issue has been substantially heightened with the B2B use of Internet technologies, where a large number of different platforms need to share data. This is especially true when considering the increased requirement for national language support.
XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language and was defined by the World Wide Web consortium in mid-1996, based on the SGML meta language. As XML’s main purpose is to enable any data in any national language to be shared across different computing platforms, it has increasingly been a natural solution of choice.
Similar to Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) standards, XML is fully text-based, and its most important unit is the character. One major difference is that XML is a self-describing data representation language, including both data and meta-data, which results in platform independent, ubiquitous self-documented data that can be used on any computing platform
The benefits of having one self-describing data format administered by a central organization, and that can be used by any information system, have caused many organizations to shift their own policies towards proprietary data formats. Even large standards organizations, such as SWIFT and ANSI ASC X12 have moved their respective standards toward XML.
An example of XML’s strength and its effect on business can be seen in the public sector in Denmark. Mandated by law effective February, 2006, all public sector organizations can only send/receive invoices in XML format (through the UBL Invoice standard). The estimated savings from the use of one standardized document type has been approximately 100 million euros per year.
While XML is a mature and well-established standard, the reading and writing of XML messages using standard procedural languages — like COBOL and C — is a complex task. It traditionally requires intricate understanding of both the programming language and XML itself.
To help developers overcome the complexities of XML and its complex programming requirements, Canam Software has developed a solution, XML Thunder, that bridges the two worlds of XML and procedural languages. This also empowers software professionals to take advantage of the benefits of XML without going through the usual steep learning curve.
This solution creates a level of abstraction between the COBOL/C program code and the rules of an XML document, allowing a highly productive, agile, low-maintenance, and repeatable programming model.
XML Thunder is a visual development tool that generates COBOL and/or C program code that creates (via the XML Writer) or parses (via the XML Reader) XML documents based on their specific and unique design.
The business case
While XML integration on various platforms has been a costly and time consuming task with alternatives that have included changing development languages, production platforms or both, XML Thunder is a solution that allows organizations to retain their existing production environment and development language.
XML Thunder shields COBOL and C developers from all the rules and restrictions of the XML technology. It enables them to create XML-processing programs in their familiar computing environment without having to learn a complex new technology. The objective is to enable organizations to use XML within their existing applications and platforms while minimizing the risk and cost associated with application enhancements, rewrites, or platform moves.
Existing production systems are the workhorses of organizations. They are mission critical and represent a significant investment in development and maintenance resources. Using XML Thunder, mature and mission critical production systems can be modernized with minimal risk and cost, utilizing existing resources.
This results in the best of both worlds: The opportunities presented by XML and the proven reliability of existing systems such as the HP 3000-based applications. From a business perspective, the lifespan of the existing system can be extended, thus increasing its overall ROI to the business area using the application.
Details of how XML Thunder works will be covered in tomorrow's blog entry.
Peter Prager is Director of XML and Reporting Solutions for Canam Software Labs. For more information about XML Thunder and to download a free trial, visit the Canam Web site at www.xmlthunder.com. The company also offers an online walkthrough of the solution at its Web site.