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Connecting Legacy Code to .NET

Healthcare provider Beverly Enterprises faced an interesting challenge when it decided to streamline its processes and create user-friendly interfaces to 20-year-old legacy mainframe data.

Beverly, one of the country’s largest providers of healthcare services for the elderly, recently finished the pilot portion of a Microsoft .NET to IBM DB2 data connection, an unusual melding of a front-end .NET application to a back-end DB2 mainframe database. The project streamlined the company’s custom-built application for accounts receivable, resulting in immediate savings.

Retooling the accounts receivable system involves about 350 Beverly care facilities nationwide, according to systems architect Conrad Wolf. He estimates that the system handles about a terabyte of data, made up of about 40,000 medical billing claims a month, mostly involving Medicare.

Streamlining the patient billing and payment process has accelerated payment processes and reduced collection times for Beverly, contributing to a 22 percent reduction in outstanding amounts in accounts receivable.

Beverly connected its DB2 database to a front-end .NET application using a .NET data provider from DataDirect Technologies called DataDirect Connect for .NET, one of a series of drivers DataDirect offers for standards-based data connectivity. DataDirect products connect applications to a range of data sources, using standards-based interfaces such as ODBC, JDBC and ADO.NET. The product supports major databases including Oracle, DB2, SQL Server and Sybase.

The driver is implemented in Beverly’s custom-built application, Service-to-Cash (S2C), for facilitating accounts receivable processes. Beverly developed S2C to accelerate the company’s payment processes and reduce the time it took to receive payment for services. But the application needed a simple user interface for the hundreds of Beverly workers who needed to access the system from various locations nationwide. Using Microsoft’s .NET Framework, the application development team built a GUI front-end interface. However, it still faced the challenge of accessing critical data stored in the company’s IBM DB2 database.

“That was one of our biggest challenges,” Wolf says. They considered migrating the data to Microsoft SQL Server, but decided they were happy with the reliability and familiarity of the legacy DB2 system, along with its batch processing capabilities. In the end, after weighing products like IBM DB2 Connect and Microsoft Host Integration Server, they chose DataDirect. “Each of those, while good products, weren’t exactly what we were looking for,” Wolf says. “DataDirect drivers give us an easy, high-performance interface without a middle tier.”

Wolf and his team faced a few challenges during the project. One of them: “Our .NET programmers didn’t know the DB2 side, and I didn’t know the .NET side.” In the end, problems weren’t insurmountable. DataDirect provided assistance, and code samples from both Microsoft and DataDirect helped.

The entire pilot project took three to four months; the data access portion took about three weeks, with Wolf and two .NET programmers as the core team.

By using DataDirect, developers were able to stay within the .NET Framework and avoid bridges out of the Common Language Runtime engine, which can also help boost performance. One thing Wolf particularly liked about the Data Direct solution: “You don’t have a whole extra layer of translation. It’s a nice, streamlined [solution].”

About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at lbriggs@lindabriggs.com.

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