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Internet Access to Benefits Apps with HostBridge

New York City Department of Education


New York City Department of Education allows employees to request changes to their benefits packages via the Internet. HostBridge and Tier Technologies worked together to reduce time and labor required to process requests.

The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) is the world’s largest department of education. The NYCDOE has a budget of $13 billion, maintains 1400 schools, and educates 1.2 million children. As part of its IT infrastructure, the NYCDOE has numerous financial and accounting applications running under CICS and ultimately chose HostBridge more efficiently process requests.

Challenge

The NYCDOE recently reorganized its 45 school districts into 10 business operation units. The changes coincided with a 20% budget reduction and a corresponding workforce reduction. These changes forced the NYCDOE to rethink how they were handling data. To get data into their CICS applications, employees phoned in their requests or they filled out paper forms and sent the forms to their district offices, where another person keyed the information from the paper forms into the CICS application using a PC and 3270 terminal emulation software. This process needed to be decentralized and pushed out to the individual schools.

Due to budget cuts, necessary changes needed to be cost-effective for the NYCDOE. The workforce reduction created a need for faster processing to keep data requests from getting backed up.

Technical Requirements

The NYCDOE used their experiences with web-enablement to develop a strict set of requirements for evaluating possible integration solutions, including:

Solution

The NYCDOE turned to Tier Technologies, Inc. to help automate this labor-intensive process. Tier wanted to leverage their client’s existing investments in mainframe technology and create a web interface that would allow employees to complete a form in a web browser and submit the data directly to the CICS application, lowering the labor costs, error rates, and time associated with the manual data entry process. Tier and the NYCDOE had previously used screen-scraping tools to web-enable applications, but integration built upon these tools proved difficult to maintain and troubleshoot. “Our experience with screen scraping showed that approach is not scalable,” says Tier senior consultant Brian Nathanson. “And, most screen scrapers use a GUI to facilitate development, but the reliance on a GUI makes it difficult to troubleshoot your work.” Tier was looking for a new kind of solution.

Based on Tier’s recommendation, the NYCDOE uses HostBridge and Microsoft Windows DNA to web-enable their CICS applications. Employees interact with the CICS application through a web interface generated by presentation components made of Active Server Pages. When employees interact with financial applications, they use forms to submit information and requests to back-end applications running under CICS. When teachers and schools purchase curriculum materials, such as textbooks, Tier created a shopping cart system that users easily recognize and use.

Benefits

Since HostBridge runs entirely on the mainframe, it eliminated the cost of purchasing, configuring, and maintaining middle tier servers dedicated to communicating with the mainframe CICS applications. The clear separation between the host and the middle tier also made it easy for programmers to troubleshoot and identify problems during development. HostBridge reduced the amount of manual labor involved in processing employee benefits requests by more than 50% by eliminating the need to enter information twice. The NYCDOE can also process employee requests more quickly because there is no delay between when the employees make their requests and when those requests enter the system. HostBridge’s scalability easily handles peak volumes of 1.5 million transactions and 10,000 logins per day.

For Tier, HostBridge has become an important tool in their growing legacy extension practice. Its architecture and simplicity allow Tier to integrate CICS applications with other applications quickly and easily, saving clients time and money. “HostBridge represents a tremendous opportunity to provide client services around legacy extension,” says Tier principal Steve Brozinick. “Using HostBridge, we can deliver scalable integration solutions to our clients faster and cheaper than we would otherwise be able to.”

Additionally, HostBridge provides the flexibility that makes it possible for Tier to combine multiple applications into a single interface and to serve multiple audiences. “The initial project for HostBridge was the portal for employees. That single interface drives up to seven CICS applications behind the scenes. However, HostBridge also allows us to serve CICS data to a broader group of users,” says Tamer Sevintuna, Management Principal for Tier. “Transportation vendors submit rosters to transport children from one place to another and technology vendors such as Dell and Xerox are able to check the status of their purchase orders online. We currently have more than 40 applications that access CICS through HostBridge and that number will continue to grow.”

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