All posts by Vichitra Godamunne

Creating an Award Winning, User-Friendly Digital Tax Portal Using WSO2’s Integration Platform

The Netherlands has a long history of water management, owing to a significant proportion of its landmass being below sea level. At present, there are 22 regional water management authorities in the country. One such water management authority is Hollands Noorderkwartier (HHNK) which partially relies on citizens’ taxes to carry out its important work. Recently, HHNK created an online tax portal using WSO2’s integration platform, which reduced costs, improved efficiency and transparency, and facilitated a simpler tax payment process for Dutch citizens.

HHNK is responsible for various activities – building dams and dykes, sewage water purification, road safety (as some of these routes are based along dams and dykes), water storage, and crisis management. They engage with 1.2 million citizens and 30,000 companies who pay taxes, has water control assets amounting to 1,000 miles of embankments, 17,771 miles of canals, and overlooks an area of approximately 500,000 acres of land.

The digitization of the tax payment process has its beginnings in 2013, when the Dutch Government introduced a policy stating that all services offered by government agencies must be carried out electronically. At the same time, HHNK was also looking at ways to improve services to citizens. On assessing their technology architecture, they realized that there was minimal integration and a large number of applications (around 400 in fact at the time). HHNK was looking to implement a service oriented architecture (SOA) with decoupling and reusability of services along with a canonical data model. “People accessed data from an application, which was then taken to another application for uploading. This process resulted in errors at times. When there was integration, it was mostly point to point and we suffered a lot of vendor lock-in. By striving to an SOA and loosely coupled applications, we are now far more flexible than in the past,” elaborates Michel Zwart, Enterprise Architect at HHNK.

HHNK’s WSO2 ESB based architecture

The architecture, developed and implemented together with Yenlo (a WSO2 Premier Certified Partner), is comprised of back office applications providing tax services when users log-in to the portal. Specialized applications are in place for communications, archiving, and other services, such as the residence service for information collection. Business application services were built using WSO2 Enterprise Service Bus.

The new system has delivered wins for residents, employees, and HHNK. The portal is user-friendly, not only making the tax payment process convenient for citizens, but encouraging them to make their payments on time as well. The portal is transparent and provides an online statement of accounts for taxpayers. As for HHNK, they have been able to make some big cost savings. Telephone calls have reduced by 25%, saving them around €40,000 a year due to the presence of the online statement of accounts. They have managed to save about €350,000 a year on hiring costs through the reduction of internal resources, and lower banking costs as a result of direct online transfers. Overall, HHNK has experienced a total cost reduction between €400,000 to €600,000 a year.

There is more good news – HHNK even won an award for providing 100% digitally available services. With these successes, HHNK is looking ahead, and there are plans to introduce WSO2’s API Manager into their architecture. “We will continue to innovate with WSO2,” says Michel.

Watch Michel’s presentation below for a more in-depth discussion of how HHNK digitized their tax payment process.

Find out more about how you can optimize business processes, integrate legacy systems, create digital assets, and more with WSO2’s integration platform.

iJet International: Transforming Identity Management for Increased Agility

iJet International provides customized risk management solutions, underpinned by intelligence, to global organizations for enhanced functionality and profitability. Their global intelligence experts monitor the world around the clock and empower their clients to respond to events such as natural disasters and political upheavals. The R&D at iJet is owned by their innovation arm, iJet Labs, who transformed their identity and access management (IAM) systems using WSO2’s IAM and API management capabilities. This transition was driven by a need to become more competitive, agile, and improve their business value for customers.

The pre-WSO2 days at iJet Labs were challenging, if it were to be described in one word. A centralized IAM solution was absent and in its place, there were purpose-built custom applications. As the user base increased, scalability became difficult and iJet could not always meet their various customers’ exact requirements. iJet Labs understood that it was imperative to create a centralized solution, which can be delegated to their clients to help meet their requirements and give them greater control of managing their credentials. At the time, user provisioning was a manual process. Even though this process was functional for several years, it was not necessarily user-friendly – there were examples of users repeating this process multiple times as they needed to access different types of systems.

Adding to their list of challenges, the architecture was an issue. From its inception in 1999, iJet has continually added many applications to their architecture, built on a central database. Yet again scalability proved to be problematic, as an application had to be scaled in its entirety and this was time consuming (though possible). “We are a product company, it is very important for us to market our ideas from the product team within the shortest possible timeframe. We need that market advantage, and this legacy architecture made it too difficult for us to be competitive,” says Ismail Seyfi, Lead Software Architect at iJet Labs.

iJet upgraded their architecture using WSO2 capabilities and migrated their servers to a WSO2 managed cloud. As big advocates of open source, Alfresco, Liferay, GeoServer, and Apache applications also contribute to their architecture. The WSO2 IAM platform has replaced iJet’s custom-built user and access management system. This introduction did not disrupt any existing applications, which now use proxy-based authentication. WSO2’s API management platform has enabled iJet to write microservices and replace their monolithic applications.

iJet Labs’ aspirations were not solely limited to revising their architecture, there were several deployment goals in mind as well. They wanted to build and configure an environment where new products could be developed efficiently without causing any interference to other development projects in progress. This was achieved by using an iJet development stack (which separates environments, installs software, and integrates them into one environment), base installation of WSO2 products and automated configuration. Ansible was adopted as the infrastructure and configuration tool. The positive results have become evident at iJet International. The changes have allowed them to integrate environments efficiently, provide dedicated environments to each development stream, sync environments with production, eliminate manual changes, and provide a single source of truth for configurations.

Listen to iJet International’s presentation by Ismail Seyfi and Matt Barnes (Automation and Software Engineer, iJet) for an in-depth discussion of this project.

Find out more about using WSO2’s IAM and API management platforms for business agility.

Fulfilling Integration Aspirations at the University of Exeter

Integrating 50 software applications in just three months – this is the feat Chakray Consulting UK achieved for the University of Exeter using WSO2’s integration capabilities. A part of the Russell Group, the University of Exeter is renowned for its research intensive agenda. As with any world-class educational institution, the University of Exeter seeks to build winning partnerships with their diverse student base and employees, create an impact with their research and ensure their strategies are future-oriented. Their digital strategy falls within this framework and a university of this scale (over 20,000 students, approximately 4,000 employees and campuses located in multiple locations) has several different systems in operation.

“Integration is strategic, it is always long term,” explains Jack A. Rider, CTO of Chakray Consulting. Accordingly, the university wanted to discard their legacy systems and adopt a cloud framework and service-oriented architecture. The beginning was quite daunting – as there were over 50 third party applications to contend with, and much of the time was spent on meetings alone (around 1,500 hours as shown by a rough calculation). Yet, the project was made easier because the university’s enterprise architects had a precise idea of the architecture they aspired to. Furthermore, Chakray Consulting has developed a solutions accelerator to build WSO2 platforms from code. As the name suggests, it expedites this process.

Selecting a cloud provider raised some issues as well initially – the Zero solution enabled them to create this on-site, Chakray then used AWS, switched to Microsoft Azure and reverted to AWS (without causing any significant changes to the project timelines). The current architecture uses a range of systems – SQL Server, Oracle Database, Git repository and Amazon Aurora to name a few. WSO2’s integration platform was used as the modular design, was absolutely necessary for integration of this scale, engages with continuous integration and automation technologies to enable the Zero solution, and could be used for hybrid and cloud deployments.

Now that the integration has proved successful, Jack is especially thankful for the encouraging leadership extended by the University which, in his opinion, is one of the lesser mentioned aspects of large-scale projects.

Watch Chakray’s presentation for more details of their integration feat.

Explore the WSO2 middleware platform with its offerings in integration, API management, identity and access management, analytics, and IoT.

A Smarter Transport Management System for London with the Help of WSO2

Transport for London (TfL) has a daily challenge – to keep a city of over 8 million people moving around the metropolis. Its magnitude can neither guarantee the transport system will always absorb commuters nor give them a congestion-free experience. It is a place where the smallest of changes would have a massive impact on your journey. Citing an example, Roland Major, a former enterprise architect at TfL, says that a London Underground strike once saw a 3% increase in traffic and a staggering 90 minute increase in journey time. Estimates project a 60% increase in congestion around central London by 2031.

Given all these complications, TfL decided to become more intelligent with technology to reduce commuter times, make the roads safer for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, and to slow the pace of traffic. Intelligence and data with a purpose are the buzzwords here. “We need better understanding of real-time demand. What insight can we get from our data, and how can we get innovative with all this information?” says Roland. He was actively involved with TfL’s Surface Intelligent Transport System (or SITS), a project that aims to better manage the city’s entire road space of pavements, cycle lanes, and motorways.

SITS’ business proposition is that it can offer billion pounds’ worth benefit to London by identifying delays in the road networks sooner than it is done at present: “We weren’t detecting incidents, and by the time we have detected them, they were already over. With technology, we can see these incidents early. We recognized that the market can do sensible things with our data,” says Roland. For example, within the traffic light system in London, TfL manages an estimated 7,000 junctions around the city and 14,000 magnetometers detect millions of daily events. This data is discarded after analysis; however, if used, TfL realized that the response time to delays improved by 15 minutes.

TfL has a 10 year plan in place, with all the of different required components mapped out. Data analytics form the core of this operational model. Data is obtained from GPS systems and bus routes. The road incidents are logged and used to determine what additional information is needed to understand and manage each leg of commuter journeys. All the data is hosted on the cloud and currently TfL is in the process of adding these components to the framework.

TfL’s transport management system

London’s new road management system relies on WSO2’s API management, integration, identity and access management, and analytics products for the intelligent work needed. These products are deployed on a private cloud managed by WSO2. The starting point – LondonWorks, a registry of all road works and street related events, both planned and current, in the Greater London area. LondonWorks is used to assess road networks, coordinate the various road works to minimize congestion and for inspection, compliance, and monitoring. Maps and forms of type data have been integrated to allow entry of incidents into the system and their identification on the map.

As their model progresses, TfL has ambitious plans for all the data they have streaming in – big data analytics to give them more insights to road movements, which will enable them to give the necessary alerts and empower them with smarter ways to deliver better, safer commuter experiences for London.

Watch Roland’s presentation for more details on TfL’s plans for London.

Explore the WSO2 middleware platform with its offerings in API management, integration, identity and access management, analytics, and IoT.

Did you know that WSO2 won TfL’s data analytics Hackathon contest? Learn all about it.

Building a Cloud Native Platform for CitySprint’s On the Dot Delivery Service

Picture a scenario where you are analyzing the results of a marketing survey which shows that a high percentage of consumers prefer same day shipping, online tracking of their orders, choice of shipping options, and deliveries within a specific time slot. Then you find out that retailers already fulfill around 65% of these needs, but there is a gap in the market, a gap that you can fill by offering a novel service. This is precisely what UK-based logistics and delivery service provider, CitySprint did when they developed the On the dot delivery service, which allows shoppers to receive their orders during a one hour time slot of their choice without extra costs.

“We wanted to positively disrupt the time slot delivery space. In doing so, we wanted to build an API ecosystem that sparks interaction, open new channels and reach new streams of revenue,” says Eduard Lazar, Senior Solutions Consultant at LastMileLink Technologies (a CitySprint Innovation Lab). At the heart of of this project was generating value for users and driving innovation, “On the dot is all about convenience for consumers, be it as a fulfillment method or in terms of collection and delivery time slots. We also wanted to simplify integration and create a developer community through our API ecosystem,” he adds.

Defining the key challenges was one of the first steps before introducing On the dot to consumers. To begin with, CitySprint had to move their data centers to the cloud in order to become a cloud native platform. They also had to create open RESTful APIs, enable identity federation, foster innovation so that it can result in a community of developers who will think up new marketable ideas and simplify integration. Selecting open source software is one of main tenets at CitySprint, and as such, they set about developing an open source platform made of WSO2’s API management, integration and identity and access management capabilities, using a DevOps approach. Meanwhile, the architecture was developed using Apache’s Tomcat and Cassandra, and WSO2Carbon used for continuous deployment.

By placing API management at its core, CitySprint has been able to achieve the required functionality and formed their innovation community (an interesting anecdote on the latter, a TechSprint event was organized where high profile companies sent teams of developers to CitySprint to build innovative products within 24 hours. Results have been quite amazing with an added bonus of introducing CitySprint to new leads).

From a business perspective, implementing this project was primarily underpinned by issues of costs, in addition to those of speed, integration, lifecycle, and skillset. When CitySprint introduced more complexity into the system, this also meant they potentially introduced a time lag. Yet, can this platform control costs through simplification and reuse? Is there a way to save time by simplifying integration? Is the skillset future proof? Can they model the whole lifecycle?

The result – On the dot – answers all the above with a yes. On the dot cloud native platform has empowered CitySprint to enter the market with an adaptable platform, which allows developers to self-sign and begin using the APIs, it is integrated as there are multiple systems working together, they have also connected data and devices, integrated platforms with those of their partners, and connected the user experiences of both customers and partners. Following their successes in the UK, plans are underway to make On the dot a global phenomenon and CitySprint is certain they can achieve this with the right technology.

If you need more details on how CitySprint made On the dot, watch their presentation.

Learn more about WSO2’s API management, integration and identity and access management capabilities.

UNRWA and Capgemini: Creating a Refugee Centric Data Model for Better Insights

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has over 5 million registered refugees requiring education, healthcare and social safety assistance, among others. UNRWA aids refugees across five countries – namely Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank, Syria, and the Gaza Strip which has over 500,000 students, 692 schools as of now, and hundreds of primary health facilities.

In order to automate several processes across the region, the team based in Gaza had already developed the Education Management Information System (EMIS) consisting of three modules (students, staff and premises) and reporting tools. EMIS captures information and manages the educational progress of half a million students, by integrating data from registration, health, facility management and human resources systems that are already in existence.

Yet, given the numbers and scale of its operations, a central data model that has the capacity to integrate data from several entities was the need of the hour to support its regional operations and EMIS. To transform their information management system, UNRWA and Capgemini used WSO2 technology to create a model which mirrors UNRWA’s organizational ethos – placing the refugees at the heart of all their operations.

“The technology is there, but it’s really about the people,” says Francesco Lacoboni, Managing Consultant at Capgemini. Accordingly, the main drivers of the new UNRWA Enterprise Architecture are built upon the strategic principles of people, information, collaboration, and security. People influence how the information is created, managed, and consumed. The platform is an information-centric one – rather than managing documents, it manages open data and content. Its shared approach design aims to improve collaboration, reduce costs, maintain standards, and ensure consistency across the board. Security and privacy features for data protection round off the principles of this platform.

Before the new model was introduced, there was a time where the information that streamed through the system was physically replicated via the transaction log. For reasons of ease and efficiency, UNRWA and Capgemini decided to provide a common set of APIs to all the developers, not only to fulfill the needs of the specific application, but to also create the framework for future use of this semantic concept. Every entity has a credible API that can be used to navigate the knowledge, eliminating the need to design a new API. The resultant Common Data Model (CDM) was created using OWL (Web Ontology Language), and its architecture and governance completed using WSO2’s integration and API management platforms.

For Luca Baldini, Chief of Information Management Services at UNRWA, it was the first time such an approach was used and now that it has been rolled out, he praises its benefits: “The new model has been very productive, as it created a common language between IT specialists and our business representatives. We can use different kinds of technology for data retrieval and distribution.” Francesco believes one of the main benefits of the new model is that it helps increase the transparency of UNRWA’s operations. Now that the new model is successfully in practice, analytics is the next frontier and they hope to leverage WSO2’s analytics capabilities to meet their requirements. Spurred by the possibilities of analytics, plans are in the pipeline to use this data model along with unstructured data provided from the field to improve operations and add further value.

You can watch Luca’s and Francesco’s presentation at WSO2Con USA 2017 to hear more about their project.

Learn more about WSO2’s integration, API management and analytics capabilities if you would like to use them in your enterprise.

State of Arizona: Introducing a Statewide Private PaaS to Improve Efficiencies and Trim Costs

Government institutions across the globe are using cloud-based technologies to add value to citizens and improve their functionality. The State of Arizona is no different, having built the Arizona Enterprise Services Platform (AESP) to reduce costs, improve efficiencies and foster sustainability in the long term. With over 32,000 state employees, 170 business units, over 1,400 IT professionals, and over 100 data centers/server rooms, a transformation of this scale was challenging. Yet, Prasad Putta, the director of enterprise technology services at the Arizona Strategic Enterprise Technology (ASET) office in the State of Arizona who oversees this project, saw an opportunity for improvement and seized it.

ASET is responsible for IT strategy, enterprise capabilities, policies/procedures, and managing high-risk, high-funded projects. AESP was rolled out as an answer to several questions: “How do we not start projects from scratch, stop re-inventing the wheel all the time, and have better data sharing practices? What can we do about redundant solutions throughout the enterprise, ease up license cost payments and solve security issues?” asks Prasad. With these in mind, Prasad and his team had a clear set of objectives they wanted to achieve. At the top of the priority list were cost reduction and sustainability as being a public institution, accountability was a key consideration. Other objectives included the enforcement of standards, revenue generation from data and services, a profitable mechanism for data sharing, allowing better data discoverability, risk reduction, and ease of development/maintenance from a developer’s perspective.

To address these requirements, ASET turned to the public cloud and decided to implement AESP as a private PaaS. The team at ASET was not looking to replace all the applications, rather prefered custom applications across the state agencies. They were also looking to expose data through APIs for private consumption, make the collaboration environment API-centric across the state, shorten their development cycle and ensure all the data is private to the state to mitigate any security and compliance risks. ASET was also looking at economies of scale as not all of the hundreds of applications were fully utilized at one given time. Their existing architecture was entirely hosted on AWS, but for the revamped architecture, AWS was limited to the infrastructure while the rest was built by using WSO2’s integration and identity and access management capabilities.

Introducing AESP brought with it another set of challenges. With agencies working independently, they had to be convinced to opt-in for this platform. Additionally, round-the-clock support was needed along with the right pricing model. Fortunately, AESP found the successful strategies and has several applications in the pipeline now. “Size the menu right” is one of Prasad’s analogies for success, i.e. to reduce the scope of applications to the most sought after ones. Initially, his team spent 30% to 40% of their time maintaining the sheer volume of applications, which is now handled by WSO2’s Managed Cloud. Several issues, such as the pricing model, are still work in progress, but buoyed by the successes, Prasad foresees a busy future.

For more information, watch Prasad’s full presentation at WSO2Con USA 2017.

Find out more about how you can use WSO2’s integration and identity and access management capabilities to improve your organization’s operational efficiency.

Brigham Young University: Enabling API Discoverability and Data-driven Business Insights with WSO2

Brigham Young University (BYU) began their API Management story 2 years ago when they decided to adopt an API-first architecture that follows a governed process. With over 451 APIs for both external and internal customers, and several development teams working independently of one another, Brayden Winterton (Software Engineer at BYU) likens its management akin to running a small city.

Modernizing their API management was a result of a problematic system that existed at that time. For one, the API manager in existence was closed-sourced and used an old, unsupported third party code. Adding some confusion to the mix, BYU had two versions of their API infrastructure in production – having started with one version, developing a second version along the way and the migration process forever a work in progress. Due to a memory leak, boxes had to be rebooted nightly (if not all API traffic ceased by noon the next day). Furthermore, there was no monitoring of API usage and the documentation support was out of date. In short, BYU was in a “serious situation” to use Brayden’s exact phrase.

Faced with all these scenarios, BYU was looking to implement a new API management solution. A key need was to create a centralized repository for all the APIs at BYU, which enables developers to search for and find all the available APIs, in addition to the respective authorization processes. A seamless transition without drastic changes to their existing developer work was another one of their important requirements. Low latency, up-to-date documentation, integrating with legacy systems and the ability to keep track of all the APIs being utilized completed their wish list.

To implement their requirements, they turned to WSO2 API Manager and WSO2 Identity Server. BYU now has subscriptions that allow consumers to get through to the API and subsequent monitoring; they were able to integrate all legacy systems with message mediation, minimized latency even while mediating quite heavily and of course, it is all open source. The BYU model works on open subscription first, however there are instances where they have needed to block a subscription until further approval was granted. They have been able to do this with an open source platform. Another huge plus has been the ability to utilize industry standards and BYU even got something that was not available to them previously – monitoring and analytics to support their business decision making. Improving discoverability and keeping the documentation up to date were the last pending issues for BYU, ultimately solved by the BYU developer portal in the second stage of their implementation.

“Our developers who have migrated are having a fantastic experience. They’re able to use things in a standard way, able to find the documentation they are looking for, utilize libraries, things aren’t drastically different, all of their old systems are continuing to work and they are getting a lot better reliability out of what they’re trying,” says Brayden. Adding to this success, BYU has seen higher API consumption as of late and with the improvements in place, Brayden is excited about the future.

If you would like to listen to Brayden’s full presentation at WSO2Con USA, click here.

Learn more about the WSO2 API Manager and WSO2 Identity Server if you haven’t tried it out yet.