RPG Pro Rescues Project with WebSmart and Web Services
June 12, 2007 Robert Gast
What happens when an experienced RPG developer is asked to create Web service interfaces to a production insurance system using a development tool he’s never used before? If the developer is consultant Weems Hutto, the client Texas-based RVOS, and the development tool Business Computer Design Int’l‘s WebSmart, then the answer is: less than an hour to develop a successful Web service interface.
RVOS Farm Mutual Insurance Company of Texas is an insurance company that operates as a not-for-profit Farm Mutual insurance provider. Its focus is to supply insurance products to homeowners, farmers and ranchers in Texas. Since RVOS is owned by policyholders, any profit gleaned from business operations is retained to pay claims and offset future premium increases. With almost 68,000 members, RVOS has over $9 billion of insurance in force and is rated A- Excellent by A.M. Best.
As part of an iSeries-based insurance management system overhaul, RVOS wanted policyholder information to be available to hundreds of regional agents and underwriters over the Web, as it had been for more than a decade on PC desktops running terminal emulation. RVOS had already made a significant investment in a widely used Web-based insurance quoting and submission package, and now needed to integrate aspects of the new Web-based system that exploits a Web services-based transaction service, with the legacy system.
Despite the fact that Web Services and SOA have been around for a while, technicians still lack experience in creating, setting up, and running them. A Web service essentially runs over the Web and uses an XML remote procedure call. In its most elementary state, a client encodes a request in an agreed-upon format as an XML message and sends it over the Web to an application service running on a server. The Web service application parses the message and then goes to the database to retrieve the requested information. It then encodes a response as an XML message and returns it to the client URL.
A Can Do Approach
When asked by RVOS IT managers if he knew of a way to get policy holder data off of the iSeries under the guidelines of Web services, Hutto, a consultant to RVOS and seasoned iSeries RPG coder, found a user reference manual for WebSmart, opened it to the section on Web services, and began to develop a small routine that would handle it.
Says Hutto, “BCD had a sample program that was about three-quarters of a page long, so I keyed it in, and after receiving a little help setting a couple parameters it worked! With WebSmart, it’s all handled within a single function. It even manages the communications between the two systems.”
Hutto explains that he patterned the Web service message format after the Web services provided by the insurance software package to reduce development time and complexity. “WebSmart gave us an efficient way to post and receive replies from Web service clients,” he says.
A Multi-Purpose Solution
RVOS initially acquired WebSmart, a product better known for its rapid Web application development capabilities, to write a portal for back-office functions. WebSmart came into full stride when the need arose to satisfy the Web services requirements imposed by their new underwriting system.
“It was one of those situations where the tail wagged the dog because we used WebSmart to satisfy Web services requirements, but didn’t build the entire Web application with it,” Hutto says. “It’s kind of funny–from our perspective WebSmart is a lifesaver because of its support for Web services.”
Since most organizations want the option of transmitting data between servers in a secure manner, WebSmart supports Web services over SSL. This algorithm encrypts the data at the source before its sent so it can’t be intercepted and read by people who are not authorized to do so.
To date, Hutto has built nine Web services in WebSmart and says more are on the way. “In a short period of time I found that Web services are a very simple thing to implement when you use WebSmart,” he says.
In a service oriented architecture (SOA) context, the Web service has demonstrated its value and will continue its proliferation throughout IT. It is particularly well suited for the iSeries environment because, as a transaction service, it transcends barriers between platforms.
Robert Gast writes for Business Computer Design Intl’. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.