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Amberpoint helps Capita manage DSA

Managing stacks of stacks

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Case study Go on, admit it; the mention of 'government' and 'applications of IT' in the same sentence often leads to a stifled yawn or, perhaps more likely, a loud guffaw. But away from the headline debacles there are things happening, and they may yet prove to be a good example of what Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) are meant to be about.

One such is the deal between the Driving Services Agency (DSA), which deals with everything to do with driving tests, driving instructors and the like, and the IT services division of support services company Capita. The object is to provide a new level of integration between its different operations, as well as integration with the 'wider Government Village', as the division's Neil Marley put it.

Capita has opted for an SOA-based solution, not least because integration across a wide range of legacy applications and functions is a core part of the task. It started the DSA program two years ago, and Phase 1 - integrating a multiplicity of databases - is due to go live in a month's time. Phase 2 will be to start on integrating core business processes, such as managing driving test bookings.

These are all part of a phased migration plan to channel shift from call centre interfaces to end users on to the web. According to Marley, this should not lead to the obvious question of call centre staff 'rationalisations' because the centres are already overloaded with enquiries about driving test cancellations, which can be better handled via a web services interface.

A key part of the solution is the choice of Amberpoint as the provider of the SOA management environment. According to Marley, two other unnamed vendors were considered, but lost out as the focus was on integration. "The others were looking up at the problem from the applications space, not down from the integration and management space," he said.

This does raise an interesting issue for any user looking to go the SOA route. Amberpoint is one of those companies that is running counter-intuitively to the normal rules of IT software and systems vendors, which is to get as much of 'their stack' installed into a user's infrastructure as possible. This is an approach that has worked reasonably well for them up to now, but is arguably counter productive in any move to an SOA environment. The real world for most users is a collection of components from a multiplicity of stacks, so what is needed is a horizontal management system across all that is stack-agnostic. This is what Amberpoint would claim is its USP.

As Northern Europe sales manager Steve Pope put it: "It is based on non-alliance to any single vendor and being the bridge between their different stacks. SOA is commoditizing many things, so it is more difficult for any vendor to argue that its widget is better than any other vendor's widget."

"Everything is now about the business service provided,"Capita's Marley said. "At a technical level systems may be more complex, but users end up with a logical separation of services into 'black boxes' that can be consumed as appropriate. This is an approach which enables business change, not just responds to it." ®

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