use Excel spreadsheets as a medium, much like you use a Web browser, for delivering services," he said. "I could see our customers liking that because many of them are proficient with Excel spreadsheets."

A simple example of this, Davis said, is a service that returned a list of students and addresses to be used in a mail merge to send information to parents.

"A more complex example would be a spreadsheet that assisted schools with staffing estimates," he said. "Staffing is based on formulas with data that could be derived from back-end systems via Web services."

Davis said he used Excel that way, but it was not easy. "Creating the Web service was easy; invoking it was not quite there yet," he said. "XP has probably changed since then, but it didn't have a built-in capability to invoke a Web service that had security in it. To make that Web service work, I had to turn off the security. Once I turned off the security, it worked just fine."

Behind the Portal

Georgia has been testing Web services on its portal since the portal opened in July 2002, said Gina Tiedemann, director of GeorgiaNet, which manages the portal.

"We are actively adding state agencies, and we're in the process of adding local governments," she said. "After this fiscal year, we will be ready to offer portal services to them, if they so choose, and depending on the needs of municipalities."

Web services carry the load behind the scenes, allowing GeorgiaNet staff to expose the functionality of legacy systems to public Web sites as a SOAP service, said Jan Sorensen, principal software developer for GeorgiaNet.

For instance, the state's online driver's license renewal application communicates with the Department of Motor Vehicle Safety (DMVS) mainframe via SOAP. A connector toolkit was used to expose functions performed by the DMVS mainframe as a Web Service. So when citizens renew a driver's license, the DMVS mainframe is queried to make sure those citizens are allowed to renew their licenses online.

The state also uses SOAP to authorize credit card payments submitted to the state's payment engine, Sorensen said. Exposing credit card authorization as a Web Service will allow the state to centralize payment processing.

As more services become available on the portal, agencies will use the same software components to perform shared functions. Accepting payments online with a credit card is one example, he said.

Many agencies need to accept credit card payments online. Instead of agencies negotiating individual agreements with financial services companies and operating separate payment processing applications, Georgia can have one agreement and one application covering the entire state, he said. As the volume of transactions increases, processing fees charged by the bank decrease.

Shifting to Web services hasn't been completely painless, however. Georgia encountered some hurdles as old systems were used in new ways.

"We brought down a mainframe," Sorensen said, noting that legacy systems usually must undergo some preparation to handle the additional queries. "That's definitely a problem because those systems aren't designed to have that kind of load. Instead of batch processes, we have citizens hitting the same processes or same services."

Georgia has since addressed the load issue, Sorensen added.

Tiedemann said the state caught many potential problems early, partly because the pilot, by design, lasted so long.

"It was a tough pilot," she said. "We're trying all different kinds of new technologies integrated together into our stack. We had a lot of partners in this and one integration partner with all these different products in a stack -- and also trying to not only integrate the stack, but also to integrate applications in it with mainframe back

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor