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10.3 Solution Analysis: The Lifecycle of a Hybrid Letter

The way in which hybrid mail is created by the end user is quite simple: A company or organization visits a participating postal operator's site and registers its name, address, credit card information or other payment method, and then downloads the Java applet to run WEB ePOST. This large applet carries a variety of functionalities, including calculating mailing costs and previewing copies of the letter before shipping.

After creating a document, the user starts the applet from a Web browser with a built-in Java virtual machine (VM) and enters various criteria, such as recipients, paper choice, speed of delivery and envelope format, which are then sent to iPlanet Web Server. It routes the file to the business-logic tier, where a Java servlet running on iPlanet Application Server prepares the document for delivery, inserts the appropriate addresses, and sends a copy back to the user for review. This process is repeated until the user is satisfied and a final version of the letter is ready internally; it is then sent over the Web to the postal operator's system for processing and delivery.

The Java servlet has four primary functions: managing communication between the user and the application server; communicating with the UNIX-based application server that renders JPEG images from HML documents with embedded Postscript files and passes these back to the applet for preview; storing Postscript documents on the file system; and calling up stateless session EJB components, which keep track of users actions with WEB ePOST in real time. IDP also worked with Sun Professional Services to map several Data Access Objects (DAO), which are responsible for inserting data into the Oracle8i database, handling searches of items end users save and managing the JDBC connection to the database tier.

The EJB components verify users and credit cards, maintain their security, authorize special functions, and register completed transactions. As soon as a transaction is validated, WEB ePOST notifies the end user using the Java applet, which also provides document previewing. In addition, IDP offers an administration system that can be hosted at a customer's location. The system essentially transfers HTML forms via JSPs from the postal operator's system to a company's site, enabling new users to create profiles, existing users to change names and addresses, and hybrid mail jobs to be tracked~all accomplished while staying within their companies' firewalls.

WEB ePost users fall into three primary categories. There are those who create and send letters (the end users). There are administrators, who run the WEB ePOST server in their environment (IDP's licensees). And there are help-desk personnel who monitor usage. All of them use JSP pages that generate HTML forms, which keep track of information and enable users to conduct their respective administrative tasks.

Since postal mail has a history of security and reliability~"through rain, sleet, or snow"~IDP wanted to bring these high standards to its Web-enabled system. WEB ePOST uses secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption, which encrypts the transmission of the document from the client to the application server. All the data retrieved from the client, such as credit card numbers and passwords, is encrypted with up to 128-bit algorithmic technology, so it can traverse the Internet securely.

In summary, a transaction that goes through the WEB ePOST infrastructure tiers follows these steps:

Step 1:
A new user registers at the WEB ePOST site and downloads a self-installing .exe file. This file contains the Java applet and a printer driver, which is installed on the hard disk and can be launched from a browser, or directly from the printer driver.

Step 2:
The Java applet connects to the site where a Java servlet, working in conjunction with an EJB, authenticates the user.

Step 3:
Users write a letter or attach a Postscript file, then select recipients from Outlook, ODBC or LDAP, or write them manually. Users then select a registered payment option, letter option and delivery option.

Step 4:
The Java applet creates a preview of the letter and sends it back to the user for approval. Prior to being sent, the electronic letter is wrapped in HML. The letter is then routed to the appropriate stateless sessions EJB.

Step 5:
The user selects appropriate delivery options, service types, payment options and confirms the transaction via the Java applet.

Step 6:
An EJB receives the letter, authorizes the transaction through credit card payment servers and places the electronic letter into the WEB ePOST server for delivery.

10.3.1 Future of Hybrid Mail

IDP and Sun have only scratched the surface of this nascent market—a world of opportunity awaits. According to the "Hybrid Mail in the Third Millennium" report1 , the potential of hybrid mail messaging (in computer mail processing markets) will increase more than 460 percent between 1998 and 2005. And thanks to

an aggressive first-mover advantage, IDP stands to become the de facto standard hybrid message management system provider. Moreover, it is not just the technology that gives the company its edge; rather, it is also the fact that IDP was heavily involved in the development of HML (Hybrid Mail Language), which was approved by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) in January 2001. IDP serves as a technical advisor to the committee.

HML is a superset of Extensible Markup Language (XML), the standard protocol for describing Web documents. J2EE technology defines a set of descriptors in XML, making it easy to implement customizable components and to develop custom tools. HML allows applications to exchange mail or messages according to a standard, the "electronic envelope." In this way, any document format can be exchanged between systems.

Prior to being sent, an electronic letter is wrapped in an HML formatted file so that it can be sent over the Internet and read by the receiving Web server. However, not all XML—or in this case, HML—documents are created equal. XML uses HTML-style tags not only to format documents but to identify the kinds of information in documents so that it can be reformatted for use in other documents, as well as used in information processing. For example, lawyers have a very different way of describing a particular event than, say, a marketing professional. HML is already being adopted by major postal operators as the industry's standard document type definition (DTD).

"IDP has been a major driver in defining hybrid-mail language," says Olsen. "We have helped introduce HML as the interface language between Java technology–based transactions, developed by Sun Professional Services, and the back-office system that we developed." Messages are collected in WEB ePOST and transferred from the customer to the application server using HML. These messages are then routed by an appropriate EJB component through the JDBC layer to the back-end systems. Explains Johnsen, "HML gives us the flexibility to draw from, create, and exchange documents in multiple formats. That means our customers can count on WEB ePOST to support most business or personal communications."

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