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Culture

A Web services wish list

Although Web services is turning four this year, IBM's Bob Sutor says the picture remains incomplete.

Web services turns four years old in 2004, and I think that most people who have been following the technology will agree that progress has been made at the fast rate once dubbed "Internet time." This should not be surprising, because Web services is the second generation of how we use the Web to connect things. This time, we're not connecting you with Hypertext Markup Language Web pages; we're connecting your business applications with those of your customers, partners and suppliers.

What this enables is distributed computing on a very wide scale.


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It is also an important component of the architecture that allows an organization to respond quickly to customer demands and capitalize on new market opportunities in secure and reliable ways.

Still, the picture remains incomplete.

Since we're starting a new year, here's my wish list for what I'd like to see in Web services in the next 12 months:

Widespread adherence to the Web Services Interoperability Organization's Basic Profile for Web services
I often hear people talk about the significance of standards, but I don't think that that's the intended focus. Standards are critically important in this industry, but I think that what people are really after is interoperability, a by-product of standards support.

Standards are critically important in this industry, but I think that what people are really after is interoperability.
If I develop my Web service so that it complies with the Basic Profile, I will significantly increase the odds that you can talk to my Web service and it talks back to you in the way you expect.

I can also be confident that I am following the best practices that we, as an industry, have learned through actual Web services deployments.

More customers using Web services specifically to improve their operational efficiency
This is one of the top two areas where customers have been successfully applying Web services, frequently for supply chain integration. Now that we have widespread deployment of enterprise messaging middleware and almost ubiquitous connections via the Internet, Web services provide a fast, secure way to pose and answer queries as well as perform transactions. There can still be some issues on transaction throughput, but these can be largely eliminated by good workload management and performance techniques.

A happy customer who gets needed information in real time is a customer likely to return. One way this can happen is if Web services are used to connect call centers to ERP systems, warehouse inventory applications or shipper information databases. This enables the call center to deliver timely, accurate information to the customer. It also allows rapid, accurate placement of orders and shortened fulfillment cycle times.

Expanded use of Web services for better information, better order taking and faster delivery
Web services also make systems from different vendors or different parts of the information technology shop look more homogeneous. No matter how much you try to standardize software from a single vendor, there will likely be some compelling event that will cause you to change your position. This could be as simple as a change of chief information officer or, more radically, a merger or acquisition.

In this latter case, rapid integration becomes paramount, because you can't afford to lose business by taking time to tie together the infrastructure of the two companies. Web services is the best way we know of today to create a service-oriented architecture, or SOA. This is IT talk for creating an infrastructure that depends less on how and where you implement the pieces of your business. It's more about what the pieces are supposed to do and the level of service is needed. SOA makes it easier to bridge systems different teams develop or different vendors provide.

The M&A front
My fourth wish is to hear about a merger or acquisition that took place largely because the parties concerned felt that Web services would help them rapidly integrate the businesses.

If we can pull off these four things in 2004, the industry will have demonstrated great progress in using the Web to its maximum potential.