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Enterprise Architecture by Ahsan Alam

As many corporations build business partnerships with other organizations, the need to share information becomes necessary. Large amount of data sharing using snail mail, email and/or fax are quickly becoming a thing of the past. More and more organizations are relying heavily on Ftp and/or Web Service to exchange data. Corporations apply wide range of technologies and techniques based on available resources and data transfer needs. Sometimes, it involves simple home-grown applications. Other times, large investments are made on products like BizTalk, TIBCO etc. Complexity of information management also varies significantly from one organizations to another. Some may deal with handful of simple steps to process and manage shared data; whereas others may rely on fairly complex processes with heavy interaction with internal and external systems in order to serve the business needs.

It is not surprising that many of these systems end up becoming black boxes over a period of time. Consequently, people and business start to rely more and more on developers and support personnel just to extract simple information adding to the loss of productivity. One of the most important factor in any business is transparency to data irrespective of technology preferences and the complexity of business processes. Not knowing the state of data could become very costly to the business. Being involved in messaging systems for some time now, I have heard the same type of questions over and over again. Did we transmit messages successfully? Did we get responses back? What is the expected turn-around-time? Did the system experience any errors? When one company transmits data to one or more company, it may invoke a set of processes that could complete in matter of seconds, or it could days. As data travels from one organizations to another, the uncertainty grows, and the longer it takes to track uncertain state of the data the costlier it gets for the business, So, in every business scenario, it's extremely important to be aware of the state of the data.

Architects of messaging systems can take several steps to aid with data transparency. Some forms of data handshaking and reconciliation mechanism as well as extensive data tracking can be incorporated into the system to provide clear visibility to the data. What do I mean by handshaking and reconciliation? Some might consider these to be a single concept; however, I like to consider them in two unique categories. Handshaking serves as message receipts or acknowledgment. When one transmits messages to another, the receiver must acknowledge each message by sending immediate responses for each transaction. Whenever we use Web Services, handshaking is often achieved utilizing request/reply pattern. Similarly, if Ftp is used, a receiver can acknowledge by dropping messages for the sender as soon as the files are picked up. These forms of handshaking or acknowledgment informs the message sender and receiver that a successful transaction has occurred.

I have mentioned earlier that it could take anywhere from a few seconds to a number of days before shared data is completely processed. In addition, whenever a batched transaction is used, processing time for each data element inside the batch could also vary significantly. So, in order to successfully manage data processing, reconciliation becomes extremely important; otherwise it may result into data loss or in some cases hefty penalty. Reconciliation can be done in many ways. Partner organizations can share and compare ad hoc reports to achieve reconciliation. On the other hand, partners can agree on some type of systematic reconciliation messages. Systems within responsible parties can trigger messages to partners as soon as the data process completes.

Next step in the data transparency is extensive data tracking. Some products such as BizTalk and TIBCO provide built-in functionality for data tracking; however, built-in functionality may not always be adequate. Sometimes additional tracking system (or databases) needs to be built in order monitor all types of data flow including, message transactions, handshaking, reconciliation, system errors and many more. If these types of data are captured, then these can be presented to business users in any forms or fashion. When business users are empowered with such information, then the reliance on developers and support teams decreases dramatically.

In today's collaborative world of information sharing, data transparency is key to the success of every business. The state of business data will constantly change. However, when people have easier access to various states of data, it allows them to make better and quicker decisions. Therefore, I feel that data handshaking, reconciliation and tracking is very important aspect of messaging systems.

Posted on Sunday, January 30, 2011 10:30 PM .NET , Enterprise Computing , General , BizTalk | Back to top

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