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Web services: What’s up?

I made a promise a long time ago to a former colleague that I would never begin anything I wrote with a definition—too amateurish, too simple, Journalism 101.

I’ve been to several conferences over the past two months at which Web services were much discussed, and seemingly misunderstood: Many of us weren’t completely clear about the topic. That said, and with all the talk—and some confusion—about Web services, a definition about this soon-to-be-dominant technology seems warranted.

A new report by the FactPoint Group and Outsource Research Consulting, "Crossing the Boundaries—Early Adoption of Web Services," presents an excellent and extensive analysis of the early adoption of Web services. And (forgive me, but I didn’t actually begin this with what’s next) they view them as: “software components that can automatically communicate in a standard-based way to share data, application logic or business process between incompatible computer systems over the Internet.” They’ve also been described to me as “blobs of content or application information using SOAP [a way to exchange XML data], WSDL [a format for describing it] and UDDI [a directory mechanism to find and use it] based on XML.”

Though the technology is still immature and ROI has yet to be demonstrated, the two consulting organizations say, Web services offer a much leaner way to integrate and share data between applications, especially, right now, in the areas of identifying business functions for data queries and making back-end functions available to users, customers, suppliers and partners. The early adopters apparently discount the lack of ROI metrics and view adoption of Web services as a cheaper alternative to enterprise application integration. Nevertheless, the authors cite immaturity of the technology--the lack of fully developed tools, “orchestration” and security--as barriers to immediate implementation of a more widespread Web services strategy.

The report targets the Fortune 1000 but discusses midsize and smaller enterprises as well, and more than 800 respondents weighed in on the topic. Half of them are either piloting or fully deploying Web services. Those early adopters are creating Web services in this order (directly from the study) to:

  • share data inside their firewalls;;

  • integrate existing applications behind their firewalls,;

  • share data outside the company,;

  • integrate applications with customers,;

  • expose internal applications to outside users,;

  • integrate applications with suppliers,;

  • integrate with channel partners, and;

  • create new applications based on Web services.;

They identify the following advantages of adopting Web services, again, taken directly from the report:

  • cost savings;;

  • new revenue, through executing new business models, reaching new customers, selling content online, selling software functionality online, creating ASP businesses and building pay-per-use subscription models (for software vendors);;

  • closer links to suppliers;;

  • faster integration;;

  • brand protection; ;

  • operations management in real time; and;

  • speedy execution of mergers and acquisitions.;

"Crossing the Boundaries" is worthwhile reading for all KMWorld readers. For you vendors, it might be especially important. As the authors note: “This report is like talking to customers.

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