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IBM WebSphere Portal and HATS

Helping to Improve User Productivity and Satisfaction

Whatever the industry or company size, everyday business processes require access to information resources such as data, applications and people. Providing access to all necessary information resources in a cohesive and efficient manner can play a large part in improving employee productivity, building successful relationships with partners and improving customer satisfaction.

IBM WebSphere Portal supplies an infrastructure to pull together access to information resources with a variety of formats. Access to all necessary data, applications and people can be supplied in a single Web browser interface. For a given process, access can be supplied to all the resources required to complete the process. Existing data and applications can be leveraged and even integrated at the user’s screen. Content can be personalized based on a particular user’s role, and information overload can be minimized.
 
Many information resources are still maintained by older suites of software that have been purchased or developed over many years. Often, these software suites include character-based, green-screen applications running on IBM eServer iSeries or zSeries platforms. When developing a portal solution to pull together access to different information resources, it is likely that one or more of the required resources will be a green-screen application. The ability for a company to modernize and selectively and securely expand access to these green-screen applications in a portal environment can be a major requirement in creating a comprehensive portal solution for employees, partners, and customers.

IBM WebSphere Host Access Transformation Services (HATS) provides tools to help quickly build portal-accessible Web applications from existing green-screen applications without having to change any code in the existing applications. With HATS, it is possible to create an easier-to-use graphical user interface (GUI) for green-screen applications. Web services can also be created that provide standard programming interfaces to business logic and transactions contained within your green-screen applications. By creating Web graphical user interfaces or Web services programming interfaces for green-screen applications, HATS can help provide a comprehensive WebSphere Portal solution that will improve employee productivity, collaboration with partners and customer satisfaction.  

The Business Need

Basic needs common to running any business include providing efficient means of obtaining information by employees, partners, suppliers, distributors and customers. Employees must have easy access to all necessary information to be productive performing both job assignments and internal company processes such as human resource activities. Partners, suppliers and distributors must be able to easily collaborate with the company, access information necessary to maintain inventory levels and ship and receive parts or finished products. Customers must conveniently access information with appropriate security protection to be able to research, order, receive and pay for products and services. The more efficiently information can be shared with these groups, the more productive and satisfied each group will be while interacting with the company.

In addition, as the requirements of managing the business change, existing processes must be changed and possibly integrated with other, newer processes. To keep the cost of change low, processes must be made more flexible and re-usable as components within a business system.

The Challenge

Businesses have long used information technology (IT) systems to help improve employee productivity, collaboration with partners, suppliers and distributors, and responsiveness to customers. Systems have been built to maintain data and transactions necessary for doing business with external users and for managing internal processes. Over the years, these systems have been enhanced and improved to the point where today they provide a very stable core of mission-critical applications. However, as technology has changed over time, formats and methods of access to information have changed. So, access to varied types of information resources may be necessary to complete a particular process.   

A key factor in improving efficiencies while interacting with employees and external users is to provide a single entry point and easy access to the information resources necessary to complete business processes based on the role of the end user.  Employees can become more productive with access to all they need supplied to them in a single Web browser interface. External users can be given security-rich, role-based access to all the information they need to interact with the company and can do so at their own convenience without relying on trained customer service representatives.  

In many cases, the data and transactions necessary to perform a process are maintained in applications running on iSeries or zSeries platforms. Often, the only access to these applications is through the traditional green-screen interface.  Although these applications are very stable and perform well, the green-screen interface is foreign and difficult to use for many users. This interface is also not typically accessible by untrained employees or external users. To give new users access these applications would require Internet access, more security and a much easier interface than the green-screen interface provides. So, either the applications need to be rewritten or the access and interfaces to them need to be improved.

Mission-critical green-screen applications have been developed and tailored over many years.  Time, effort and resources have been invested fine-tuning them to achieve a high level of performance and reliability.  Rewriting or replacing these applications can be expensive and perhaps cost-prohibitive. Also, rewriting an existing application often increases risk in terms of stability.

The key to improving access for employees and external users, quickly and with less risk, is to improve the user interface to existing green-screen applications and make required information and transactions Web accessible without changing the applications themselves.
The Solution

WebSphere Portal along with HATS has helped many businesses meet these needs.
WebSphere Portal can provide employees, partners and customers with a security-rich, single entry point and easy access to all the information resources they need. It is possible to customize what information you provide based on the role of the end user.  Support for a credential vault makes it possible to simplify the process for end users of signing on to multiple applications. Different portal pages can be supplied to help organize the tasks and processes that are made available.

Portlets, the visible active components on a portal page, are used to provide access to different information resources. They help you control the flow and display of information for the end user. The click-to-action (C2A) feature allows you to share data between portlets to integrate data and processes between different information resources. By providing users with cohesive and efficient access to all the information they need in a Web browser interface, you can help improve employee productivity, build successful relationships with partners and develop customer loyalty.

And, if a portal solution must include access to mission-critical green-screen applications, HATS makes it possible to quickly and easily create portlets that will provide the necessary access. With HATS, a Web-like look and feel can be created for your mission-critical green-screen applications without changing the applications themselves. An easy-to-use portlet interface can also be created that makes only necessary functions available to employees or external users and hides the rest. This is especially important in a portal environment where the screen space is shared by many portlets.

More Stories By Alisa Morse

Alisa Morse serves as the architect for the HATS product team, and was the HATS version 6 Chief Programmer. She has over 20 years of software development experience in a range of Networking products such as WebSphere Host Publisher, Personal Communications, and Communications Server. She works in IBM Software Group, in Research Triangle Park, NC.

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