Boeing Tests Automated Data Tool

FRAMINGHAM (07/07/2000) - Moving data from legacy applications to commercial off-the-shelf software can disrupt operations. But software engineers at The Boeing Co. in Seattle said recently that they have successfully tested a method that could make the process safe and seamless.

Greg Saul, chief systems architect at Boeing, said his developers conducted a four-week pilot program, which ended late last month, to simultaneously upgrade data in an IBM Corp. 3270 IMS database legacy system and in Metaphase, an application from Structural Dynamics Research Corp. (SDRC) in Milford, Ohio.

Metaphase integrates product and manufacturing information into a browser-accessible database.

The point of the test, according to Kurt Nelson, a senior systems architect at Boeing, was to see if Metaphase and the legacy application could be updated simultaneously without downtime on either system.

Boeing has a worthy goal, according to analyst Robyn Bergeron at Cahners In-Stat Group in Newton, Massachusetts. "It's a lot of work to coordinate an IT department to write to both databases, so anything that smooths the process has value," Bergeron said.

Many firms have data and systems that go back 20 years, she added, and "it's nearly impossible for them to find the time to move the data [manually]."

Auto-Integration

Rather than develop code from scratch that would link the systems, Saul and Nelson used Accelis, an automated development tool also from SDRC, to create a new application that integrates them.

Saul said there were three possible approaches. One was system-to-system integration, in which Boeing would use Accelis to create an application thatautomatically moves data between the applications.

The second is what Saul calls "plug-and-play," in which Accelis is used to define broad functions in both applications - which involves data retrieval - and to make those functions available and understandable to either application.

Boeing chose a third approach, which Saul called "dual-system update from a browser," because of its speed and simplicity. With it, developers used Accelis to create an application with a browser interface that simultaneously, and from a single entry, sends data to both the legacy and newer, off-the-shelf application.

While the pilot was successful, Saul and Nelson still have a lot of work ahead of them. Boeing officials want to share data not only between the new product data management (PDM) systems and older applications, but also between the PDM system and enterprise resource planning applications from Baan Co. NV in Barneveld, Netherlands.

Saul said Boeing will eventually move some 400 legacy applications to off-the-shelf software. While declining to say if and when he would use Accelis, he said the pilot demonstrated thatthe transition can be made without disrupting business, shutting down criticalapplications or doing a lot of manual coding.

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