Thinking of Staatsbosbeheer, a complex IT infrastructure is probably not the first thought that pops into your mind. But appearance can be deceiving. Staatsbosbeheer deals with several businessunits such as nature management, recreation, and real estate that exchange and process thousands of messages per day. On top of that, there is a constant exchange of data about employees, finance, and planning. Add to this the high number of voluntary projects and events, and you will understand that the IT department dealt with a jumble of data connections.
Henk Nijburg, information architect and coordinator interfaces, has first-hand experience. "There is a tremendous diversity of business processes across Staatsbosbeheer”, he explains. "You simply lose track." Although some of the existing systems were connected, they lacked a point of converging, and data could not be re-used either. "We seriously lacked documentation", adds Henk. "Only a few IT-specialists knew how the software infrastructure was set up. If they would leave, their expertise would leave with them."
“Is an ESB really necessary?”
Clearly, it was time for a new approach. Things started moving with the implementation of the CSMi (Conversation Management System international). This system was brought in to aggregate and analyse incoming information about nature- and site management. This would lead to a better insight in planning schedules, the work to be done and real estate data. It was a great idea, but there was one important element missing. The CSMi was not linked to the financial system, which played a particularly significant role in the data exchange story.
After a careful preliminary analysis, the ESB from open source vendor WSO2 was bought to enable this link after all. "Both Henk and I then started lobbying to connect the ESB to all of the other systems as well," says Robbert Mackiewicz, technical architect. But not everyone was excited about this time-consuming implementation. "’Is an ESB really necessary?’ people asked me,” says Henk, laughing. "But it was about time we centralized.”
Dare to look beyond your department
Henk and Robbert’s powers of persuasive seemed to work. The ESB was further expanded and made useful to the entire organization. As Staatsbosbeheer had relied on the assistance of the Yenlo gurus during the implementation of the CMSi, they were also involved in this next step. Together with Henk and Robbert, the Yenlo gurus charted the applications and business systems of Staatsbosbeheer, and documented everything they could possibly find: systems and the way they were structured, data re-use, standards for information exchange, and agreements on security and authorization. “Nobody likes documenting. But it is critical for every organization that wants to formalize its procedures and especially for Staatsbosbeheer”, says Henk. “We simply have too many domains and corresponding applications to not register our knowledge.” The ESB project went beyond the borders of the IT team. “As an information architect, you need to look beyond your department”, says Henk. “We deal with the structure of the entire company.”