Massachusetts housing agency links databases for easy access

Massachusetts housing agency links databases for easy access

By Claire E. House
GCN Staff

The staff of the Massachusetts Housing Finance Authority use the agency's enterprise information system to access and update data that is housed in multiple databases.

A tool suite is helping a Massachusetts agency bridge its disparate databases for simple access through an intranet-accessible enterprise information system.

The Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency provides loans for low- and moderate-income housing both at the single-family and development project level, agency EIS project manager Carl Richardson said.

It's about time

When the agency began preparing for year 2000 about seven years ago, it brought in various applications with different database engines.

'The enterprise information system was not an afterthought, but it wasn't something that they geared buying individual packages toward,' Richardson said. 'They weren't thinking data warehouses at that point.'

So MHFA ended up with data in several applications: Btrieve from Pervasive Software Inc. of Austin, Texas; Microsoft Access, Excel and SQL Server; Progress from Progress Software Corp. of Bedford, Mass.; remediated legacy VAX databases from Digital Equipment Corp.; Pam financial software from Princeton Financial Systems Inc. of Princeton, N.J.; and a proprietary budget and accounting app.

Rather than migrate the data, Richardson found a way to tie the apps together through DQpowersuite from Metagon Technologies LLC of Matthews, N.C.

'We wanted to present something that gave the users a simple interface to get to the data they needed very quickly and not worry about what system it came from, passwords, etc.,' Richardson said.

The software caught Richardson's eye because it natively works with various databases including Progress and has a simple but powerful interface.

'It truly is a distributed application. As you maintain the environment, it will automatically update all of the databases,' Metagon chief executive officer Lance Becker said.

At the package's core is DQbroker, a query processing server installed at MHFA on one server; the optimal setup for speed would see it on each server housing data, Richardson said.

DQbroker provides a single view of data housed systemwide. Client applications connect via one Open Database Connectivity link to DQbroker alone, so systems managers don't need to set up connections to each database.

'It eliminates a whole lot of maintenance on the computer services side,' Richardson said.

The client application, an intranet app in MHFA's case, then sends cross-platform data queries. Richardson used PowerPlay Web and Impromptu from Cognos Inc. of Ottawa to build the front-end query and reporting application.

The tool has performed beyond expectations, Richardson said. It has let him tailor catalogs of data'from various sources'that hold actual data sets rather than simple views.

He has built Microsoft SQL Server 6.5 repositories for system data previously held in spreadsheets on individual PCs, keeping data accurate and current.

And the program automatically builds history tables of overwritten data, Richardson said.

'It's sort of data warehousing without the time and expense,' Becker said.

The DQadmin component provides user setup, security and metadata management. It sends any administrative updates through DQbroker for systemwide changes.

Richardson's team spent four months developing the first iteration of the system, which included the DQpowersuite tie-in. It has been rolling out the system since March and expects to complete the deployment to its 325 users this month.


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