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A Publication Featuring The Information Services Technology of Maine State Government
|Volume VI, Issue 6||June 2003|
By David Blocher and David Ellis
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Bureau of Information Services (BIS) are collaborating to construct a general purpose node for the exchange of XML formatted files using the latest Web services technology. This is an update of the project described in the October 2002 issue of MIST. Work was funded largely through a Network Readiness Grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).
Currently, environmental programs utilize individual and often proprietary methods to exchange data between the state and USEPA. This is costly, makes it very difficult to upgrade databases at either end of the information pipe, and does not afford access to the public or other interested parties. Using the Exchange Network, data from multiple environmental programs will flow through a common node using Web services and standard XML schemas. This will allow the exchange data to be uncoupled from the DEPs backend databases and made available to any authorized party over the Internet. Data collected from multiple states will be able to be pooled and analyzed in a consistent manner.
BIS has been working with six other states and the USEPA to define and implement a set of standards-based Web services that can be used to exchange environmental data across a variety of organizations, databases and supporting technology platforms. The "Node 1.0 Project" has been used to define and verify standard protocols and functional specifications to be implemented by all state environmental agencies and the USEPA. The project started in September of 2002 and evolved through three versions of specifications and test builds of software to arrive at the present Node 1.0 configuration.
Members of the Node 1.0 team established a great working relationship and accomplished an astounding amount of work in a short time. Members from the states of Delaware, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Utah, USEPA, Ross Associates, and Computer Science Corporation met weekly via Webex conference calls to review and update specifications, work out problems, and keep the project on course. The team published three versions of the Network Exchange Protocols and Functional Specifications and developed an Implementation Guide and Security Guidelines for other states to follow in implementing their nodes. Each Node 1.0 state is also publishing a WSDL (Web Service Definition Language) description of its nodes services and a "Demonstrated Node Configuration" with configuration settings, software, and guidance for transferring its technology-specific node implementation to other states.
Maine chose the Oracle 9i Application Server as the middleware platform to implement its Exchange Network node. The State of Florida had built an earlier beta-test node with Oracles assistance. DEP contracted with Oracle Consulting to expand on that primitive node. That work produced node versions 0.8 and 0.9. To finish the Node 1.0 Project, Maine and Florida collaborated on implementing version 1.0 specifications, with Florida funding this round of Oracle consulting work. To date, Maine and Florida have spent nearly $200,000 in training, contracts, and staff time to develop the Oracle node capability.
Dave Ellis, Rob Williams, and Karen Knox were the project team for BIS. They had to learn a lot of new technology quickly. They took classes and spent many hours on the phone with Oracle to learn what parts of the Oracle 9iAS suite were needed, and how to configure them. There were numerous frustrations and delays in dealing with Oracle contracting, but they persevered and expect to have most of the 1.0 version functionality in place by the end of May.
To date, the focus has been to build a group of network nodes using different technologies and get them to talk together. This is largely a technical effort. Making this into an effective data exchange network will depend more on program and management efforts. In the next year, USEPA and states will concentrate on adding more state nodes and on flowing environmental data over the network. Success will depend on the ability of the community to define and follow standards for data elements and exchange templates, and to adapt their current systems to interface to the local network node.
Maine and the other Node 1.0 states have applied for a grant to provide resources to assist other states to build on our experiences. It appears that more than half of the remaining states will be using Oracle 9iAS to implement their nodes. As the Oracle experts, a great deal of the burden will fall on BIS to mentor them through the process, and the grant will be used to help fund this effort.
The DEP node has been designed to be extended for other uses. DEP plans to use its node as a collection point for capturing lab results and recurring reports from the regulated community, and to exchange data with other states and the Canadian Provinces. The concept of a network of state nodes is gaining popularity in other federal agencies outside the USEPA. Center for Disease Control, Homeland Security, Justice, Human Services, and others are proposing similar or perhaps joint implementations.
If you would like more information on network nodes, please contact David H. Ellis (624-9484) or David Blocher (287-7966) or visit the Exchange Network Web site at http://www.exchangenetwork.net.