Connectivity suite helps Dudley keep e-government goal in sight

Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council has begun using a suite of mainframe connectivity products to provide the general public with...

Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council has begun using a suite of mainframe connectivity products to provide the general public with web access to its back-end systems.

While the government has set 2005 as the deadline for putting services online, Dudley information systems manager Peter Hipkiss said the council's mainframes were not due for replacement until 2006.

He said he is now using software from UK mainframe specialist NDL to avoid premature replacement of the council's mainframe systems. "Using NDL, we are giving our mainframes a mid-life kick."

The Active Host Publish from NDL allows the council to provide access to its mainframes systems from a web browser. "We can now meet our e-government targets without having to replace our back-end systems."

At the end of 2002, Dudley offered the public access to council tax accounts over the web, an application which runs on a Fujitsu mainframe. The council has recently used NDL's Active Host Publisher to move its business rates application online.

Active Host Publisher uses a technique called screen scraping to provide access to the mainframe. The software can be configured to pick up the important data fields on a green screen terminal application and capture the data from them.

It then presents input boxes and text from the mainframe terminal screens on a web page.

Hipkiss has now taken on an NDL product called Active Integration Suite, a more advanced tool compared with the original Active Host Publisher product, designed to speed development.

"Previously we had to write code to position the [input] boxes and capture text."

Active Integration Suite generates its own code.

The new software will be used to provide web access to Housing Benefit screens.

Over time, Hipkiss said the software will allow the council to pull together information across its IT systems, such as presenting rent accounts and benefits from a single web page.

"We envisage adding further enquiries to the council tax and business rates system," he said.

During 2004 Dudley will be piloting geographically-based contact centres. One of the applications for the NDL technology is to improve the effectiveness of the contact centre.

People prefer to deal with their local council establishment rather than visit the administrative centre or multiple sites. These sites may not have access to all the information required to deal with a query from a member of the public but, by providing mainframe access over the web, call centre staff would be able to pull together information from the various back-end systems and present it via a web page.

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