SITA, the world’s largest provider of airport IT and telecommunications services, is in the process of improving the integration of its legacy systems in a bid to make them more open and flexible, by wrapping the systems with an XML interface and using Liaison Technologies' data integration tool, Contivo.
Computerworld UK spoke to Martin Fantozzi, senior architect at SITA, who explained how the four year project is ongoing and he believes that they won’t ever be in a position where the integrations are complete.
“We have a large number of fairly big, sophisticated, legacy systems. However, we are moving forward into a world where we want our systems to be open, service based, and where XML messaging is the primary method of communicating between different systems,” said Fantozzi.
“We have been building layers across the front of systems to make them look like they are service enabled. The benefit of wrapping systems with an XML interface is that it makes it much easier for us to integrate them – it’s a lot more flexible.”
“The integration time depends very much on the size of the systems and the project. It can be anything from a few weeks to a few years. SITA is a large organisation and so it could be anything from lightweight web services through to an entire passenger processing system. Integration is only going to get more complex and we are never going to be able to turn round and say: okay we are done now.”
SITA initially asked its internal IT team to quote a price to develop a tool in-house for XML data integration. I also got an outsourcer to provide a price for the work. Fantozzi said that these figures were approximately four times as much as what he pays for Contivo.
However, Contivo wasn’t the first tool SITA settled on. It initially chose a tool called MapForce – but after deployment found that it needed a more powerful tool. Fantozzi said that although Contivo is ‘significantly more expensive’ than its competitors, it has more capabilities.
“The limitations of MapForce were that once you wanted to do anything serious with it, apply some complex rules, you end up taking the project out of MapForce and then what you did wasn’t backwardly compatible,” said Fantozzi.
“We wanted something more sophisticated, something more directly aligned with the code.”
Fantozzi explained that Contivo allows SITA to carry out some complex integration mapping, although he isn’t taking advantage of the full functionality just yet.
“What we do at the moment is pull in the XSDs (a structure for XML messaging) for the interfaces we are dealing with, which provides us with a graphical interface. This then allows you to look at the source of the system, the target system, and we can then pull across the individual elements from one side to another,” he said.
“It literally draws a line from one system to another. However, we don’t make as much use of the business related functionality just yet. You can do things like define concepts within the interfaces, which Contivo can automatically carry out further mappings for new integrations.”
He added: “So, for example, it would allow the tool to make some intuitive choices. You could define something as a passenger, and then whenever Contivo encountered another passenger, it would understand the mapping for that and automatically map it from one side to another. This process is more manual at the moment.”
Fantozzi told Computerworld UK that he is aware of a new feature being released by Liaison that would allow for increased automation when integrating the systems. The feature creates ‘Maplets’, which are small pieces of mappings that then can be shared across different integrations.
He believes that these Maplets may help speed up the process of integrating hundreds and hundreds of systems.
Fantozzi said: “It would enable me to pick, for example, a passenger, and the common mapping between two different industry interfaces would enable to pick that up and put it into different systems.
“So I would only have to do that particular mapping once, and everywhere ‘passenger’ was represented, it would automatically carry it out. The biggest challenge we have is that a lot of the interfaces, the messages we are dealing with, are very similar in construct.”
He added: “At the moment we have to do a certain amount of manual mapping for every interface.”