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Bentana: Using NDS as a Data Repository

Articles and Tips: article

01 May 1998

Second Place

Novell is pleased to announce Bentana Technologies, Inc., with their product, BenefitsXtra has won second place in the "Get Off Your Apps" contest that ended 27 March 1998.

Bentana is one of the leading technology providers taking advantage of Novell Directory Services (NDS) capacity as a distributed data repository.

Outsourcing HR Functions

Bentana addresses the problems faced by companies outsourcing human resources (HR) and benefits administration functions by developing theirBenefitsXtra application. This technology provides a cost-effective way to integrate the employer services outsourcing provider's adminstration systems with those of their business customers.

This lowers costs, improves data quality and seamlessly provides HR administrative services. Their technology is so seamless that customers never realize that they are talking to an external provider.

Employer services providers and their customer's data are usually not connected electronically. Instead, providers and their customers traditionally use costly manual, paper-based methods to communicate and conduct business. To address this issue, providers are increasingly turning to self- service electronic channels, such as e-mail, the telephone and the Internet.

These methods enable customers to enter the data directly into their provider's administrative systems. However, it also means that the customer is re-entering data that already exists in their HR system.

Sharing Distributed Data

In Bentana's technology, NDS and LDAP gives both employer services providers and their customers access to each other's internal data in a highly secure, inexpensive manner. NDS then ensures that the data entered in either administration system replicates automatically. In this way, both the customer's HR system and the provider's administration system are always in sync. This means that the provider always has direct access to the employee information at the customer's worksite, enabling the provider to supply real-time information to other processes.

To address the security issues of permitting third-parties direct access to a company's internal network and the complications inherent in the heterogenous, distributed computing environments in today's businesses, Bentana chose LDAP-based directory services, NDS.

This combination enables them to securely integrate the internal network and synchronize the data between the employer services provider and their business customers. In addition, they take advantage of advanced security features such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and X.509 digital certificates. To ensure that their application and interfaces were cross-platform, they used the Java programming language.

NDS Links Extranet Components

NDS is the critical junction point that links the components of the extranet (the combination of the employer services provider's and the customer's network). NDS plays two vital roles in this extranet:

  • As a repository for distributed data to be replicated and synchronized across the network

  • As a security provider

Traditionally, NDS has let companies safely distribute and replicate information about organizations and people, such as: names, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and security privileges. Now, Bentana uses NDS as an ideal repository for distributed data. In Bentana's BenefitsXtra application, companies can use NDS to store HR and customer data because of its robust security and replication features. NDS also acts as the gatekeeper for the extranet by controlling security, access control and the replication rules for all the parties involved.

This use of NDS and LDAP in an extranet allows employer service providers to reduce the cost of administration and improve the data quality. Now, data is entered once on either side of the extranet and replicated to the other side. NDS also places the responsibility for maintaining a particular directory object on the department best able to ensure accurate information. In Bentana's example, HR departments own employee attributes like name, address, and phone number. The employer services providers supply product information and rates.

Currently, HR system vendors have begun exposing their data to directory services so that they can share it with other applications over the Internet and the extranet. However, this still uses proprietary interfaces and two-step data entering.

Bentana has now pushed this one step further by using LDAP and NDS to take advantage of the distributed environment found in the outsourcing partnership. Once their award-winning product BenefitsXtra is installed at the customer's worksite, the employer service's provider can safely establish direct access to the customer's HR system and replicate that information over the extranet to their own system.

Congratulations, Bentana, on taking advantage of the distributed data repository capabilities offered by NDS and the easy access offered by LDAP. And, congratulations on your second-place win!

Nancy McLain

* Originally published in Novell AppNotes


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