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Case study: Expanding Web services beyond the intranet

Financial services firm netDecide wanted to extend its Web services to wireless devices but couldn't figure out how to display data on a handheld without a helping hand. Thanks to Cysive and its Cymbio Interaction Server software, today netDecide's wireless Web services are helping customers to make faster and better financial decisions.

One of the reasons Web services have been widely lauded is their ability to take XML data and, upon request, display it in an application on the Web, or even on a PDA or Wireless Application Protocol (WAP)-enabled phone. However, when it comes to figuring out which type of device will be displaying the data, Web services need a little help.

That was the predicament netDecide Corp. found itself in 18 months ago when the Falls Church, Va.-based company wanted to increase the breadth of its financial services platform. Its Wealth Management System combines up-to-date financial data, access to customers' portfolios and other back-office information into a suite of software and tools that banks and brokerage houses use to advise their investors.

Though netDecide's platform already used Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP)-based Web services to draw data from the systems it interacts with, it was only capable of displaying information over an intranet in a single, portal-like interface.

Many of netDecide's customer companies found that interface too restrictive, said chief products officer Rob Groat, because their employees had to connect to the intranet to access their clients' portfolios. So if a client's stock price suddenly dropped while an adviser was out of the office and away from the intranet, he or she would have no way to react.

NetDecide soon realized that it had to adjust to its customers' needs by making its Web service available through mobile devices, but it had to decide whether it should build the functionality itself or pay someone else to do it. The company finally hired Reston, Va.-based software maker Cysive Inc., because not only had the two companies worked together when netDecide originally developed its product, but also because Cysive proved it was up to the task.

"Initially, we thought we'd support just one mobile device, like the iPaq," said Groat, "but when we looked at what [Cysive] could offer, there was the opportunity to support multiple devices."

So netDecide chose to implement Cysive's Cymbio Interaction Server software, which consists of a front-end component that receives requests from client devices, a filtering mechanism that uses the World Wide Web Consortium's CC/PP protocol to determine what kinds of clients are making requests, and a third piece that works in conjunction with third-party applications like netDecide's to pass data back and forth.

Together, netDecide and Cymbio work like this: when a wireless device user requests information from NetDecide's application via a secure Web address, Cymbio springs into action. It acts as a go-between, sending the user's requests to one of netDecide's exposed APIs in the form of XML over HTTP.

When the Wealth Management System formulates a response to the query, that data is routed back to the end user through Cymbio. There, Cymbio detects the type of device being used to view the information -- whether it's a normal Web browser or a handheld device -- and formats the XML data into the best predetermined viewing format for that device.

That way, said Groat, Cysive can format information based on its stored device profiles, meaning handheld users don't receive more information than their small screens can handle, while users of standard browsers are able to view much more.

During the implementation, Groat said his company discovered that it wasn't necessary to have the Cymbio server in-house. In fact, the Cymbio server that NetDecide uses today is located in Cysive's data center. Thanks to a secure Internet connection, NetDecide's application can send data back and forth to Cymbio as if they were side-by-side, saving NetDecide the costs associated with an in-house installation.

Cysive's security options also eased the integration process. For each of its clients, netDecide performs a custom installation, and each has its own security policy. By using a Java-based security framework, Cymbio can adapt to whatever security method netDecide's clients prefer, including Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), LDAP schemas or more complex single sign-on methods.

Even though much of Cymbio is built with a Java framework, Groat said netDecide has used it with customers that use both Unix and Microsoft systems without incident. There were a few glitches during the initial month-long integration of netDecide's platform and Cymbio, but the faults were usually with the wireless technology, "which still has a ways to go," Groat said.

Groat said his company spent between $350,000 and $400,000 on the implementation. Cysive charges on a per-CPU basis and a typical Cymbio purchase ranges in the low seven figures.


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