Tag Archives: extol

Is Data Mapping a Solved Problem?

Many IT professionals believe that data transformation and mapping are “solved problems”.  After all, mapping tools have been around for over 20 years, and thousands of IT organizations use them in integration projects every day.  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, right?

What belies that attitude are the missed integration project deadlines, runtime exceptions, customer chargebacks, vendor scorecard deductions and other business problems that can be traced to data transformation mapping practices.  Mapping is also the single most costly integration activity, accounting for up to 75% of some integration project costs.  Yet few project teams focus attention on ways to improve mapping efficiency and accuracy. Continue reading

Podcast: Replacing Legacy EDI Systems (Run time: 14:45)

I recently sat down to interview Nahid Jilovec on the subject of her recent white paper, “Replacing Legacy EDI Systems“. In this brief (less than 15 minute) podcast, Nahid reviews the business drivers and technical advances that are motivating companies to extend or replace their aging EDI infrastructures. She also identifies the main implementation strategies available, summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of legacy replacement, and makes a strong case for strategic consideration of future business integration needs.

If you haven’t yet read Nahid’s paper, or are looking for a condensed overview of this topic that you can send to a colleague, click here to listen, or right-click on the link to download this informative interview to your MP3 player.

And if you’d like to suggest a business integration topic for a future EXTOL podcast, just reply to this post or drop us a line at info@extol.com.

Smart Mapping: Matching and Rule Generation

Ok, so you recently read a few posts about automated mapping, specifically Smart Mapping and you’re thinking to yourself, “Awesome!  I love it when computers do useful things for me and make my life easier… But what does Smart Mapping actually do?”  Well, the simple answer to that question is it does two things, matching and rule generation.  Now you’re thinking “Oh, right….  Well, what does THAT mean?”  Fear not, I will explain.

But before I do, it is important to understand that Smart Mapping is initiated from and runs in the EBI Ruleset Editor.  Those of you who are familiar with the EBI Ruleset Editor already know what rules are and their role in mapping.  Those of you who are not familiar with the EBI concept of rules and the Ruleset Editor may want to refer to Greg Inns’s scintillating blog “It’s all about the Model”.  In it, you’ll find explanations of what rules are and how EBI uses them to get data from source to target. Continue reading

It’s All About the Model

For quite sometime, software developers have known that working with models is a much more efficient way to get a job done than by working at a lower level in the minutiae. One of the reasons for this is that people who develop meta-models have figured out how to hide details that can be derived, or to classify similar problems so that they can be expressed in an easier-to-understand way.

Consider, as an example, the problem of working with XML elements.  If I was going to write a program to read an XML document, I might make some assumptions about the cardinality of a particular XML element and, if appropriate, place a loop in my program that accounted for multiple occurrences of the element. However, that’s not the only way to do it. Alternatively, I might determine the cardinality of a particular element by inspecting the constraints of the element in an XSD.  What’s happening in this alternative approach is that I’m moving towards using a model (the XSD) to figure out what to do, instead of hand-coding the logic.  This is somewhat of an over-simplified example, but I think it illustrates the point that working with models eases the burden (of maintainability) of dealing with particular instances.

This idea of modeling as a way of solving problems is something we, at EXTOL, have been convinced of for a long time.  The benefits are far reaching both for us (as a software developers), and for our customers.  The trick here is in developing a meta-model (or language) that allows the user to express what they need in order to get the job done.  Representing the model to the end user in useful way is also a challenge.  I’ll talk more about that problem in a future blog.
In our world then, the model is the central thing. Our users build them (via visual representations…GUIs), we generate and compile from them, we inspect them for patterns, we create new instances of them and we even decorate or extend existing ones.  It all starts with the model, and nothing happens “downstream” that isn’t expressed (in some form) in the model.  Our models even refer to other models.

Our users build models to express the structure and attributes of metadata (think “a model that describes an XSD, Database, EDI, as well as a Spreadsheet or a Flat file”).  We call these metadata models “Schemas” (not to be confused with “database schemas” or W3C Schemas).  Our users also build models that express what to do when transforming one instance of a metadata model to another.  We call these transformation models “RuleSets.”  Since one of our goals has been to enable transformation without programming, we have spent a lot of time thinking about how to model the clever things that people want to do in their transformations.  The languages of these models continue to evolve over time.

In terms of our Transformation model, a rule can be thought of as something that describes some relationship between the source and target.  But not only that, a rule might also exist to help describe the sequence of execution (where that might matter), doing iterations on collections of instances of data, encapsulating other rules, or raising asynchronous events.  Other more common examples of Rules are simple data manipulation routines such as move, substring, and concatenate, while expressions such as “For Each Database Row, Create a New XML Element” are also just as common.

Now, what does all of this have to do with design-time automation and our Smart Mapping feature as an expression of it?  In short, because we have committed to and use modeling extensively, we are able to make our features do far more than one might expect at first glance.  We often get the reaction from prospects that, “I didn’t even think that was possible.”  That reaction still surprises me when I hear it.

The Smart Mapping feature in EBI produces (generates) rules in the RuleSet model, which (after the user approves) are indistinguishable from rules that might have been created manually.  This is significant because often times in this area, what is generated automatically is something that either can’t be maintained, or is so cryptically represented that it’s impractical to maintain it.

Another significant challenge in this area is the ability to control the scope of what an assistive mapping tool is looking at.  At one extreme, we find tooling that will generate instructions at the gross level (e.g. entire document to document) and then leave it up to the user to “clean up the mess.” This has some utility (and the EBI Smart Mapping tool can certainly do this), but I think the real value is in allowing the user to set the scope arbitrarily.  So for example, you can limit the Smart Mapping routines to looking at a single database table and how it might map to an EDI Segment.  This is important because most of the work that happens in the mapping area is maintenance, not starting from scratch.

What Can Exit Point Events Do for You?

Every business is looking to improve efficiency in daily operations.  With improved efficiency – costs will be cut and time will be saved.  The old saying “Time is money” still applies and this is exactly what exit point events can help you do.  When activated – the event waits in ready status.  When the activity occurs – an event is raised.  This event is what can save time and money in problem resolution.

The official definition for exit point events is the following:

Exit Point processing raises events in EBI when certain transactional activities occur.

This feature alerts you to these activities, provides relevant data, and helps you quickly identify and address errors.

As in previous releases of EBI – all translation errors continue to be logged in the EBI Auditor.  This new feature gives a form of action to these isolated conditions that normally are deep within the audit log / translation process.  The event alert should be customized to your needs with either email notice or launching a business process.  This feature could nearly eliminate the time previously required to search and find translation problems ultimately saving time and money! Continue reading