I had a meeting with a company named Fatpot today. Their forte is connecting disparate systems and they've concentrated in the area of public safety. The system they've built is called "Public Safety Inquiry" or PSI and it serves as a front end for UCJIS (the Utah Criminal Justice Information System), NCIC (the National Criminal Information Center) and things as mundane as the Yellow Pages. Its a great little client that runs on a laptop in the crusier. The user interface design is very well done and much more mature than I'd have expected from such a young company.
The problem that they're solving is this: first responders from different agencies often can't talk to each other. Even more concerning is that since each agency uses different computer assisted dispatching (CAD) devices, they can't tell what other first reponders are at the scene or enroute. With Fatpot's solution, not only do police and other first reponders get a single place to make inquiries against criminal justice databases, but they also get interagency text chat capabilites (based on a single user directory) and interoperability for CAD. This is a big deal, because its now possible to create a single , geographic display that shows the location of every first reponder (including fire and EMTs) in that region and coordinate and dispatch them in the event of an emergency. Many of Utah's police agencies already use Fatpot, so the State is well on the way to this dream being a reality.
Interestingly, they didn't use web services, although web services would be an excellent solution for this problem. They wanted to get the job done and so they just connected at the socket level and they custom parse messages into and out of the various systems. This is quick and dirty, but I worry that it doesn't force the interface to go public and doesn't drive interoperability for the next app. Consequently, the next application is just as difficult to write, unless you let Fatpot do it (I'm sure they'd be happy to). :-) Nevertheless, they've solved an important problem and enabled some very cool applications.