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EJB circulation application delivers for LA Times subscribers

Many companies have valuable legacy mainframe applications but need to link them to new e-business applications, observes Markus Nitschke, VP of corporate marketing at Attachmate. As a case study of how this can be done successfully, he points to the circulation department at the Los Angeles Times.

Using Attachmate's Smart Connectors product, the Times is able to link a subscriber at home using a PC Web browser to account data in a legacy system that dates back to the pre-Web world of 1989.

The programmers working on the Web application did the coding in Java, but the circulation data comes from applications written 15 years ago in Natural and Adabas, explains Anne Turner, senior project manager for circulation systems at the Times. Although the legacy circulation applications are ancient in current computer terms, they are serviceable for newspaper home delivery, which has not changed much since the 1980s. Subscribers want to report wet papers or missed deliveries or put delivery on hold for vacations. The original system can handle all that.

However, like most legacy systems, it predates JavaBeans and Web services, so the problem Turner faced was how subscribers logging onto www.latimes.com could handshake with their account data in the back-end system. A proof-of-concept done with Attachmate Smart Connectors proved to be a viable way of transforming ("transactionalizing" is Attachmate's term) legacy business logic into Enterprise JavaBeans that the BEA WebLogic server-based Web application could use.

This means home subscribers can interact via the Web with the circulation system in real time. For example, if the subscriber logged on to the Web site to report that a paper hadn't been delivered, one of Turner's requirements was that the information go into the circulation system and generate an alert to an area manager that the paper needed to be redelivered. In that way, the Web application would produce the same result as a phone call to the circulation department.

"The ability to do real-time was core for us," Turner says.

While redoing the entire legacy circulation application in Java would have been long and time-consuming, the Java programmers at the Times were able to build the Web application and interface in eight months from the time the budget was approved to its successful launch last fall.

Subscribers have been able to use the Web application for the past 10 months, and Turner says: "We've had a good response. It's exceeded expectations."

About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.

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