HUD embraces SOA

The Housing and Urban Development Department is moving toward service-oriented architecture (SOA) that will aid the agency in its mission to promote responsible, sustainable home ownership and maximize options for safe and affordable housing for citizens and residents across the nation.

Like many agencies, HUD is saddled with multiple of legacy systems'200 of which are supported by multiple point products.

'We have tons of business requirements coming in. We don't have time short term, necessarily, to get rid of all these legacy systems,' said Lisa Schlosser, chief information officer of HUD. Schlosser spoke Monday at the 6th Semi-Annual SOA for E-Government Conference sponsored by Mitre Corp. and the Federal SOA Community of Practice.

During the first quarter of this year, HUD backed $30 billion of mortgage insurance. Now, in the third quarter that figure has more than doubled to $70 billion. HUD also backed about 200,000 mortgages in the first quarter; the agency now is up to 400,000.

Handling that type of volume requires a move to an agile environment where applications can be developed rapidly. 'The days are gone where it takes five years to build systems to meet [agencies'] requirements. New leaders coming into government have little patience for that,' Schlosser observed.

Right data, right people

The agency has a portal in which business partners can access information. HUD is building an SOA enterprise service bus that will allow users to more efficiently access services and applications from those legacy systems.

'SOA services are really helping us get data to the right people at the right time while we continue to modernize those legacy systems," she said. However, 'A 20-year-old system is not going to be modernized over night,' Schlosser added.

The vision is for business partners to access the portal and pick the service they want, instead of going through silos of legacy systems. For instance, if a financial institution wants HUD to endorse a mortgage, banking officials should be able to pick that service and everything should be transparent. The aim is to have services based on functional areas, she said.

HUD is using the Oracle Portal and SOA Suite to perform transactions with business partners, and Microsoft's SharePoint Server to do SOA-based collaboration internally.

An interesting trend to note is Oracle's push to offer more end user focused capabilities like SharePoint, and Microsoft's push to make its SOA offerings scalable and robust enough to handle both external and internal transactions, according to Schlosser. That situation will bear watching to determine if the agency will have two competing solutions in the future, she noted.

Using InfoPath and SharePoint, the agency has built a new application to reduce paper-based processes. 'We send out penalty notices if rental housing authorities don't meet certain requirements,' she said. This has been a manual process until now. The agency created an InfoPath form, which automatically pulls data from legacy systems that track all the public housing authorities. The form then generates letters, sends them electronically and tracks them through the collaboration tool.

A HUD SOA success story is the creation of the National Housing Locator System, which provides disaster affected victims with help by letting them search for temporary housing.

After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, federal officials realized the government didn't have a central database of temporary housing, especially those that would accept housing vouchers for low income residents or for the handicapped, Schlosser said. Most of the databases were regional.

HUD was given the task of creating such a database. The agency identified a series of these data providers who already had datasets with this type of information. HUD entered into legal agreements with them to ensure they will keep the data current and accurate.

Working with Citizant, a systems integrator, the agency developed a web portal using SOA and mashup functions to pull data from all the sources into a central database. The system collects data in real time and performs searches with familiar tools such as Google Maps.

It took three months to build and now lists about 250,000 properties, Schlosser said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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