XML-BASED INTEGRATION: A CASE STUDY

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1 XML-BASED INTEGRATION: A CASE STUDY Chakib Chraibi, Barry University, José Ramirez, Barry University, Andrew Seaga, Barry University, Andressa Sily, Barry University, Michel Sily, Barry University, ABSTRACT XML, developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), is a set of standards to exchange and publish information in a structured manner. XML can be leveraged as a key component of an Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) solution because of its data description power and platform independence. XML, despite been ratified as an open Web standard in February 1998 by the W3C, has just started being used as a means of integrating their applications. In this paper, we provide a successful case of XML-based integration that has been implemented to support the Barry University News System. Keywords: Enterprise application integration, XML, Web server, Macromedia Flash. INTRODUCTION XML provides a simple and powerful framework to describe, represent and organize data. It is a specification that is used to define data structures through markup tags and attribute names. XML elements can be combined to provide information about data relationships. Since XML features include ease of use, platform independence, and data description power, it is ideally suited to data integration and data exchange. XML can be leveraged as a key component of an Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) solution. XML applications can be broadly divided into two categories: document applications and data applications. Document applications are intended for publication and B2C communications while data applications are intended for data interchange and B2B communications. XML data can be delivered in many different formats and on many different devices, as Figure 1 shows (1). Figure 1. Handling of Web applications without and with XML. XML was designed as a standard for data representation and exchange over the Internet. It provides a robust, human-readable framework that supports application semantics and information content (1). Despite its potential for producing larger files and overhead, XML has Volume V, No 1, Issues in Information Systems

2 become a key component in enterprise application integration because of its non-proprietary format. Although native representation of data and native interface still dominate in enterprise computing, most applications and databases are becoming XML-aware. Information is extracted, converted into XML and then placed in the target system without end user interference and with complete transparency (2). Another advantage is the ability to present the same XML data source in different formats and devices, using for instance XSLT (XSL Transformations), a language for transforming XML documents into other XML documents. While many higher education institutions, as well as other companies, still see the Web as just another medium to publish their brochures and contact information, Barry University has made a strong commitment to utilize the Internet as a marketing channel. This has led to the development of several Web sites to support information gathering and exchange over the Intranet and Internet. Web sites include information about events, activities, programs, talks, and other news of interest to the Barry community or at large. These Web sites may have news items in common. Furthermore, there is a need to provide an easy process for updating and maintaining the Web site. In this paper, we describe the process that was developed to integrate all Web submissions and data from all the different departments and schools. Moreover, through a web interface, the process for content providers to submit their news became as effortless as composing an . At the center of this project is the use of XML as a vehicle for data sharing and integration. INTEGRATION CHALLENGES The Division of Information Technology (DoIT) at Barry University, with the support of the administration, has backed the creation of a Web Services department to manage the University s websites and to create and implement an Internet marketing strategy. Before this team was created, most of its members were already in the process of establishing several initiatives such as standardization across websites, improving usability features and eliminating outdated content from Barry websites, to name a few. One of the first efforts was to keep the homepages of the different Barry websites constantly updated by providing an easy way for content providers to submit their information. At first it was all done manually which took a lot of time and did not allow for an easy way to provide search capabilities and retrieval of archived stories. From there, the Web Services group, in conjunction with the Special Web Applications Team, moved to database applications that updated the homepage of specific sites automatically and took care of the archive and search options. The main problem with relying on database applications is that they do not integrate with each other. Different requirements in different units would lead to the development of separate applications. Needless to say, different devices would require new applications as well. The process of working on independent websites for each program out of a total of 120 is obviously not a workable solution. Since some programs may need to use the same set of information, one could say that with a simple copy and paste this could be accomplished; however, this solution is obviously inefficient, difficult to maintain and support, and time consuming. Volume V, No 1, Issues in Information Systems

3 The proposed solution consists of developing a simple interface for submitting news items. The access to that interface is of course restricted. Once the article is submitted, the item is added to a database and an XML representation of the article is generated. Figure 2 represents a simplified sample of the XML version. Figure 2. XML document of a news item The list of entities represented here is just partial for simplification purposes. Furthermore, additional attributes have been added such as ID number, date of publication, date of expiration, etc. Figure 3 represents the design view of the news item as produced using the XML Spy software, an XML development software product developed by Altova Corporation. Figure 3. News item (simplified) design DESCRIPTION OF IMPLEMENTATION The proposed solution, entitled the Barry University XML News Feed, is based on data integration through XML. XML and its associated technologies offer a powerful framework for organizing data and automating the exchange of information. XML is flexible, allows for separation of content from device and easy management and deployment in multiple locations. At the forefront of this solution is a simple submission form for the Internet and one for the Intranet. This submission form would only be available for specific content providers who would be validated through Active Directory. Figure 4 shows the submission form. The news item that the user submits is automatically tagged, by the form, to be published in the specified website. When the user hits the submit button, the form updates the main news database through a customized stored procedure and calls a system stored procedure to output an XML file for each website. Figure 5 shows the stored procedure that is used to generate the Volume V, No 1, Issues in Information Systems

4 XML data. This particular way of publishing content leaves all security concerns to the database. If this particular content is only for internal view, then it will be published to an internal server; whereas, any content intended for the public will be published to the Internet server by the database. Figure 4. Submission Form. Figure 5. XML-generating Procedure. Volume V, No 1, Issues in Information Systems

5 The XML file generated shown in Figure 6 can then be utilized by any other application, which needs to incorporate that news item in another website or device. Figure 6. Generated XML File. Then we use Macromedia s Flash to display the contents of the XML file within the web site. Flash s ability to create interactive applications for different devices and its aptitude to manage XML content makes it a very powerful choice. Figure 7 shows the output generated by the Macromedia Flash Player from the XML file. Figure 7. Flash File. In the case of the Internet, where the Macromedia Flash player may not be available to everyone, using XML gives Barry University the ability to publish the news content in HTML to the site or through a Rich Site Summary (RSS) feed to other applications or sites. Finally, Figure 8 shows Volume V, No 1, Issues in Information Systems

6 how the Flash insert is integrating into a website, in this case, the Barry University main Web site homepage. Figure 8. Flash display within the main website homepage. CONCLUSION XML ability to provide data interoperability and re-usability makes XML a natural choice for application integration. In a situation where web content needs to be always current for a growing number of websites, the devised solution was to develop a flexible environment that is XML-enabled. Macromedia Flash was also chosen as the user interface for displaying the contents of the generated XML files from the news items. This allows for portability of the application to any device as well. Several months after the implementation of this application, a report will be produced that will show how this application saved development time and maintenance costs, which could give a hard cash figure of the utilization of XML to provide data integration at Barry University. REFERENCES 1. Chraibi, C. (2002). XML Web Technologies. Issues in Information Systems, Vol. III, pp Linthicum, D.S. (2004). Next Generation Application Integration. Boston, MA: Addison- Wesley. Volume V, No 1, Issues in Information Systems

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