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Report: Web services to alter consulting

Growth in Web services will force computer-services companies to dramatically scale back some business areas and focus on other tasks, a researcher reports.

The rise of Web services will force computer-services companies to dramatically scale back their systems-integration businesses and focus on other tasks, according to a research note released Thursday.

The note, from research firm ZapThink, says that with the appearance of more applications based on Web services--a programming method and set of standards specifically designed to link disparate systems--services companies will start shifting to tasks such as improving corporate business processes.

And since a large portion of the revenue generated by consulting companies is the result of systems-integration services, those companies will need to alter their business models to survive, according to Jason Bloomberg, the report's author.

"Because Web services will enable tomorrow's software to integrate out of the box, consultants will have to add value somewhere else," Bloomberg said in a statement.

Web services is considered an important driver in the adoption of services-oriented architectures, a technique for designing corporate computer systems. With a services oriented architecture, separate applications can interoperate, regardless of what operating system or programming languages they're based on. A services-oriented architecture promises companies the ability to share information in a more flexible way than hard-wiring connections between applications, such as an order-entry system and a sales-automation package.

Often, consultants are called in to write the code that creates the linkages between different applications. But the ZapThink report suggests that as the improved integration of Web services and services-oriented architectures takes hold within corporations, that task could go the way of the dodo--revenue from systems-integration projects will drop more than 70 percent by 2010, Bloomberg said.

However, Bobby Soni, the managing director and practice leader for integration services at consulting firm BearingPoint, has a slightly different view on the predicted demise of systems-integration services.

It's true that Web services and services-oriented architectures greatly ease application integration, Soni said, but their use in business systems is still in its infancy. Consultants can help companies implement a services-oriented architecture in the process of systems-integration projects.

"If I went into a customer and told them that I was going to convert them to a 100 percent services-oriented architecture in 12 months, they'd kick me out in 30 seconds, because it's just not possible," Soni said. "It's a journey, not an event, and it actually takes smart systems-integration people to make that journey realistic."

Consultants also play an important role in marrying the underlying integration technology with knowledge of the specific business processes that need to be automated. In fact, Bearing Point is training some of its consultants to better understand the systems-integration work required to perform a given business process, Soni said.

ZapThink's Bloomberg also sees some opportunity for consultants, even with a steep drop-off in application-integration work.

Businesses will need consulting services tailored at improving business processes and building an appropriate technical underpinning for a services-oriented architecture. Bloomberg predicts that revenue from business process and architectural consulting services will surpass systems-integration sales by 2006. He said that the market for business-process consulting will jump 20-fold from today to 2010.