SMEC Embraces XML

Government departments continue to struggle with XML (eXtensible Markup Language), with many projects on the backburner, as businesses selling services to government show reluctance to rush to early adoption.

Most government organizations remain in the early phases of XML planning, according to a report by David Braue in the current issue of CIO Government magazine, except where the technology has been introduced incidental to introduction of a content management system (CMS), or as a data interchange format accompanying J2EE or .NET application development.

And Braue reports vendor politics and user shortcuts are diluting XML's value proposition and that of Web services more broadly, and creating problems for some government departments.

For instance Braue reports APRA (Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority) which in 2002 announced that it would be among the first such bodies in the world to support XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language believed the standard's enablement of consistent financial reporting structures would make it extremely popular among the 10,000 institutions required to regularly report to APRA. Two years later, most organizations still prefer the old-fashioned way, and XBRL has been pushed into the background at APRA.

"Until the distant day when XML becomes a standard file format within government organizations, transformation from legacy formats will be essential to XML's uptake. Even for organizations that don't have XML in place yet, developing a clear migration strategy is an important obligation for any CIO - if only because Australia's official archivists want it to happen," Braue writes.

But now some companies selling services to government are starting to embrace XML.

Take the Australian consulting firm SMEC (Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation), a privately owned consultancy which does work worldwide for clients, including AusAID. Established under Act of Parliament in 1970 as an agency of Australia's Commonwealth Government, and now one of the leading engineering and development consultancies in the world, SMEC provides multidisciplinary consulting services in engineering, project management, environmental science and development activities. SMEC became a corporation in 1989 and then went private in 1993 when it was sold to employees.

It plans to invest $5 million over the next two years in the introduction of SMECNet, an integrated business and project management system to be built using Epicor for Service Enterprises, the first XML Web service Enterprise Service Automation (ESA) solution for mid-sized, project-based businesses.

SMECNet is being developed in partnership with Epicor Software Corporation, an international provider of integrated business software solutions. SMEC project manager Angus Macpherson says the enterprise system will support its worldwide growth and its project management, business development and financial management processes.

"The Epicor product, because it's a web-based application using XML, promises us flexibility because of our wide spread," Macpherson says. "It is obviously uneconomic for us to have our own private network around the world for the people that we have so the Internet was the obvious way to go for us in terms of communication, and XML promises to be the technology that will allow us to integrate with our clients, including AusAID, in the future," he says.

SMEC is reportedly well aware of the risks inherent in the introduction of a comprehensive business management system and the need for careful planning and preparation.

"The system will be introduced in stages through the network of business units", SMEC's Chief Financial Officer, Alastair McKendrick says, adding that the new system is being designed with SMEC's specific business needs in mind.

"There will need to be extensive training and information for all staff before the first stage goes live in 2005".

SMECNet is being designed not only to accommodate SMEC's current needs but also to anticipate the company's documentation, communication and information needs for many years to come. It will become the operational foundation of SMEC's business and ensure efficiency and security as the company continues to grow in Australia and overseas.