Say “No” To Screen Scraping, But “Yes” To Screen-Based Access


Screen scraping. The first thing most people think of when they hear this phrase is probably an old green screen terminal, but those old green screens are incredibly useful. They provide lots of critical information to a lot of businesses. More than that, they’ve stood the test of time, and they’re reliable and secure.

Getting them to yield up their secrets hasn’t always been easy, though. They may be lacking source code or documentation, making them difficult to update, but that doesn’t keep them from producing invaluable data, day in and day out.

Screen scraping can be practically as old fashioned as the old green screens. Screen scraping at its most fundamental aims to programmatically mimic the actions of a user at a terminal. It can be configured to detect data changes and automatically log them. It sometimes produces data in non-standard formats, so initial set up for a screen-scraping program generally requires some data manipulation, including data cleansing.

But screen scraper applications are coming of age. They now can facilitate screen access using techniques and producing information that meets all the requirements for a modern enterprise system. Today you can expect a sophisticated GUI version of the clunky old green screen. This transforms something that was, well, not so pretty, into a sophisticated modern application. The latest and greatest screen techniques can even combine access from different screens, transforming old data into new insights. It may seem as if such a system would be difficult to maintain, but in fact the entire application can be automated.

The data that’s collected can be used for more than GUIs. It can feed HTML clients or can be refashioned to generate application interfaces. Screen scraping techniques have even been used to extract data from ERP systems that lacked callable programming interfaces.

A successful screen access program will produce data that’s indistinguishable from any other data from the end user’s point of view. And the process is safe. There have been a few notorious failures of overly ambitious conversion projects in the past decade, but finding new uses for old data via screen access produces usable information without a lot of risk. Because screen access doesn’t produce a lot of disruption to the existing system, it can be deployed in days or even hours. And just because these applications can be deployed fast doesn’t mean they’re not good. This kind of solution can make your green screen data web ready and service enabled.

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