Magazine Article | November 30, 2006

Document Transformation Via SOA

Source: Field Technologies Magazine
Integrated Solutions, November 2006

Sponsored by XenosIt is well known that many of the documents organizations generate contain valuable information that can have a potentially huge impact on multiple applications and processes internal and external to the enterprise. This realization has led to increased adoption of document and content management technologies that enable these organizations to more efficiently store and access their critical business documents. However, one problem that continues to plague organizations is effectively integrating and sharing their document data with other systems. This article describes the benefits of using SOA (service-oriented architecture) to implement transformation services for ECM (enterprise content management) document archive and repository systems.

Why SOA?
In basic terms, SOA is a conceptual framework for designing and building IT networks and Web services that allows data to be freely exchanged among heterogeneous systems. This model is appealing to many organizations because it provides the technical foundation for the rapid and flexible implementation of corporate requirements in today’s fast-paced and rapidly changing business environment. SOA is also making it possible for widely distributed computing platforms to share data via the Internet using Web services.

The Problem With Managing Multiple ECM Repositories
ECM systems are the repositories for business-critical documents such as customer statements, reports, bills, and policies. Merger and acquisition activities, in particular, in the financial services and telecommunications sectors have created the operational challenge of managing multiple disparate ECM repositories. Organizations frequently make independent decisions about document archives for different aspects of their business and then concern themselves with tying together these disparate systems at a later date.

In fact, some organizations make duplicate copies of information just so it is available to those systems when customer service representatives, customers, or business partners need access to documents in real time. This practice results in redundant information dispersed throughout the organization, often in incompatible formats.

In today’s business world, it is often necessary for organizations to exchange document information with external third parties such as suppliers, partners, businesses, citizens, and nongovernmental organizations. Managing multiple disparate ECM repositories bogs down this process and negatively affects response times to these third party organizations.

Identify Common Business Requirements
In all of the above cases, common functions and services are duplicated in purchased ECM software or in-house archiving applications. Identifying common services is the first step to implementing an SOA. Common business requirements for ECM systems are:
n Single federated view into all ECM repositories
n Managing documents that are stored in multiple document stream formats, such as Adobe PDF, Adobe Postscript, HP PCL, HTML, IBM AFP, TIFF, Xerox Metacode, XML, and proprietary formats
n Extracting information from these documents to create index metadata
n Dynamic transformation of documents according to the format required by the requesting end user or application

The Technical Benefits Of Transformation SOA
The services listed in the previous section can and have been provided in an ad hoc, as-needed basis. However, with duplicate functionality, as the demand for such services grows, an SOA is an ideal implementation. The following are some technical benefits of using SOA for data transformation:
n All ECM systems and applications can reuse common functionality
n As transaction volumes increase, an SOA can be used to offload CPU overhead
n Uncoupling transformation logic from business logic within the application increases the flexibility and reusability of the applications
n Providing access to valuable information in documents, which has been created from raw data by the business rules coded into applications
n Avoiding the need to extract and duplicate document data and information for specific applications

The Business Benefits Of SOA
In today’s complex business environment, organizations require business agility to meet tomorrow’s unknown requirements. Transformation SOA gives organizations this flexibility by serving as the intermediary between providers of documents and consumers. The interface between a provider and a consumer can be defined in business terms, and the technical details of the interface, such as extracting key data elements, transforming document formats, and delivering on electronic channels, are the purview of the SOA.

The integration of applications both within an enterprise and with external parties is an ongoing exercise. This integration requires the sharing of documents among various systems. Furthermore, different applications can have varying document format requirements. Using a transformation service removes the need for each application to accept and generate documents in the formats required by all of the other applications in the integration suite. The transformation service understands the document formats required by each application and dynamically transforms documents and extracts required data elements so no changes are required to any application in the integration suite. The benefit here is the ability to rapidly implement new processes and react quickly to the changing business environment. Furthermore, a transformation service can provide a financial benefit by reducing licensing costs because transformation software does not need to be implemented for each individual application.