D.C. boards enterprise service bus

Helps residents keep closer eye on their neighborhoods.

These days residents of the District of Columbia can stay apprised of neighborhood conditions via data feeds that report items such as criminal activities, the location of vacant properties and unfinished service requests. These citizen-oriented data fee

"The role of the ESB really is to liberate data that's important to the city. We're liberating it from dozens and dozens of individual legacy sources," says Suzanne Peck, the district's CTO.

An ESB is a standards-based middleware infrastructure designed to handle application and data interactions. Like a traditional enterprise application-integration platform, an ESB connects applications and coordinates messages among systems. But instead of using proprietary interfaces to tie in components, an ESB uses standard Web services interfaces.

Typical ESB features include messaging, data transformation and routing, load balancing, metadata management and exception handling. Some ESBs also add to the mix business process management and business activity monitoring.

As companies look to implement service-oriented architecture (SOA) environments, ESBs are catching on. In particular, large-scale SOAs require scalability, availability and common platform for mediating among dynamic services-based applications, which an ESB can provide. Gartner predicts more than half of all large enterprises will have an ESB core running by year-end.

As interest in ESBs picks up, vendors are bolstering their ESB portfolios. Players in the market include large-platform vendors, such as BEA Systems, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle; specialists, such as Cape Clear Software, Fiorano Software, Progress Software and SOA Software; and open source options, such as Apache ServiceMix, ObjectWeb, and by year-end, Red Hat division JBoss. (A beta version of the JBoss ESB is available.)

Ripe for services

The District of Columbia's ESB implementation grew out of the need to make better use of data trapped in agencies' 300 systems. "We had data that was barely accessible in individual, aging legacy systems, and it required hard, direct one-by-one interfaces between systems just to extract the data," Peck says.

That left the district's agencies unable to use each others' data properly, she says. "They couldn't make proper decisions, because they didn't have complete information nor timely information."

District officials conceived DCStat to alleviate agencies' data-sharing woes, and in 2004 put the Office of the Chief Technology Officer in charge of delivering it. Getting DCStat off the ground took two years of infrastructure planning, investment and implementation.

"You take the first two years to put in the infrastructure, so for two years it looks more or less like you're not doing anything. Then you come out of the box, and you do everything with simultaneous immediacy if you've got all that infrastructure in place," Peck says.

A key step was deploying ESB technology from Sonic Software, an operating unit of Progress Software. The ESB can tap into assets managed by different agencies and contained in data centers that operate autonomously, says Dan Thomas, director of the DCStat program. "One of the things that the bus did is give us the ability to overcome network barriers that are erected to set up safety perimeters around our organizations, such as firewalls," he says.

With the ESB in place and new data sets continually added, the district has been able to focus on developing services-based applications. Among the first is a Web-based application that correlates data from previously unrelated data sets, such as crime incidents, housing-code inspections, business licenses and registered vacant properties.

What distinguishes the application is its presentation capabilities. Rather than returning a list of incidents or a table of items, it presents data points overlaid on city maps, so users can easily zero in on the areas that need the most attention.

The district has found a correlation between abandoned vehicles and drug activity, for example. So, using DCStat data, the city focused on towing 2,000 abandoned cars in 14 crime hot spots, which disrupted drug-trafficking opportunities.

"One of the business and social outcomes of ESB is to make the district inhospitable to crime, hospitable to economic development and hospitable to education," Peck says. By marshaling resources across city government, crime has declined by 23%, and violent crime has declined by 34% in the district's worst 14 zones over the last year, she says.

DCStat also launched a mobile application for field workers. From a PDA, a district employee can query DCStat and obtain a property summary report that identifies the owner, tax-assessment information, service-request history, housing-violation citation records and crime activity associated with a property.

Citizens, meanwhile, can subscribe to RSS or Atom content-syndication feeds, which are updated hourly, daily or weekly. One feed covers resident requests for service made to the departments of transportation, public works and health sanitation enforcement. Citizens also can receive information about vacant properties registered with the Office of Tax and Revenue.

This week DCStat program managers plan to add a feed that covers arrests and charges reported by the Metropolitan Police Department. Due to be delivered over the next few months are feeds that report current and expired business licenses granted by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, public space permits granted by the Department of Transportation, building permits granted by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and alcoholic beverage licenses granted by the Alcohol Beverage Control Board.

View from the top

In the bigger picture, the District of Columbia is looking to improve information flow with entities outside of district government, Thomas says. These efforts are aligned with Department of Homeland Security's attempts to facilitate collaboration among federal, state, local and private-sector entities through the establishment of fusion centers for sharing intelligence and information, he says.

"The idea behind fusion is to tap into a number of additional data feeds that are beyond the traditional information that you consume on a daily basis. The bus is perfectly positioned to become a way to rapidly bring that information online," Thomas says.

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.