for a deer license was also a registered gun owner, the state can do so. There is, however, a value proposition to consider, because new inquiry processes can cause trouble when agencies suddenly have the ability to perform cross-checks that haven't been performed before.

"In the past, when you applied for a deer hunting license, you got a deer hunting license, and when you applied for a gun license, you got a gun license -- they weren't related," he said. "Now, there's going to be a bazillion more queries to that firearms' license database than before. Connecting things can create new load, but the reason it's new is because you're putting a new step in the process. One of the things you have to figure out is, 'What's the value of having that new step, and is it worth my while beefing up my system to handle that load?'"

Practical Magic

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is the 12th largest school district in the country, and operates 240 schools and education centers. Ted Davis, director of knowledge asset management, works with a technology infrastructure consisting of more than 65,000 desktop workstations, 700 servers and more than 30 enterprise applications running the school system's operations.

Davis said FCPS is using Web services to free 45 separate information systems from the trap of spaghetti architecture.

"We have lots of information systems, and these information systems provide lots of capabilities to our customers, but they also leave lots of gaps between them," Davis said. "This is a role where we see Web services helping us a lot. We have tremendous sources of information captured in these systems, and if you're not using those system interfaces to get to it, you may be missing an opportunity.

"By creating a simple Web application, you can use a Web service to go out to these systems and pull information together -- without having to build a large application."

FCPS rolled out a summer school information system in April that pulls data from FCPS' student information, library, transportation and special education systems. The summer school system has been performing well, he said, though the discovery of an early problem gave FCPS a chance to use Web services on the fly.

"We missed a requirement and needed a quick solution," Davis said, noting that schools must be aware of when their students register for summer school.

"We didn't plan for every principal in our school system to have access to the summer school system, and we had to figure out how to get that information to them," he said. "The system actually had a report in it that has the registration information, but to get to it, you have to know how to use the system. We were looking at printing the reports and sending them to principals on a daily or weekly basis, which would be a tedious process. One of my staff had the bright idea of making it available on the Web."

Using Web services, FCPS put together a simple Web application that allows principals to authenticate against FCPS' active directory, then invokes a Web service that sends principals a report of all their students who registered for summer school.

"The principals can check it any time they want, and find out which students have registered. They can take the action they need to make sure the students in need of extra help get registered," he said. "The principals loved it. It required no training and it's real-time information."

For the future, Davis said his staff is experimenting with Microsoft Office XP as a smart client and teaming the suite of applications with Web services.

"You could, in an Excel spreadsheet, invoke a Web service. That would allow us to

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor