And although e-mail and fax may be an inexpensive way to transfer information, they are hardly the most efficient. They are difficult to manage, subject to transcription errors, and -- because they can be easily intercepted and copied -- they're rife with security concerns.
Four years into the new millennium, thousands of businesses still rely on software applications developed years ago by various programmers in various languages. These applications still function adequately on their own, but are not able to share data, requiring a costly duplication of data entry efforts -- all of which are subject to transcription errors.
Critical information is often inconsistent within these applications, causing misinformation and inefficiency that can drain the ROI on information management investments.
Consolidation and efficiency
Fortunately, enterprise information can be consolidated securely with Web services -- software components that allow access to and communication between applications written in almost any programming language.
This means you can securely and accurately share information between systems both within your corporation and with your suppliers and customers. Consolidation of data means less duplication, more timely and accurate data, and better ROI.
Because of the word "Web," most people assume that Web services is a technology that requires the use of the Internet and an Internet browser. This is a common misconception; Web services is a technology that allows one application to find, understand and communicate with other applications -- either internally or externally, depending on your needs.
Down the road
By most estimates, Web services will be a widespread technology as early as 2006. Companies are already aggressively examining their information systems to determine where applicable interfaces can be built and savings can be realized.
Consider how many applications are accessed when adding an employee to your organization -- HR, payroll, e-mail, security, timekeeping and, in some cases, a separate benefits application will have to be updated. With Web services, it may only be necessary to add the information in one place.
The other applications access the data via Web services, having a very real impact on how efficiently your company uses information and how quickly you can conduct transactions.
Making the move
Migrating to Web services mixes the excitement of a new technology with the uncertain costs of a learning curve. Most companies fear the perceived technical complexity as well as the very real challenge of finding partners who will make you successful.
Major undertakings should only be considered by companies that are either comfortable with risk or that have the help of an experienced Web services team.
Since no new technology is adopted without challenges, companies should be certain they are making the migration for the right reasons. Again, Web services are designed to efficiently move data between various applications. The companies that will benefit the most are the ones that need to give various groups of people access to the same pool of data, and the companies that want to move data seamlessly and efficiently between systems.
There is much that can be accomplished using Web services, but as is always with a new technology, it's best to start small and grow from there.
Burr Sutter (firstname.lastname@example.org) is chief technologist at BravePoint, a supplier of e-business and enterprise IT solutions to mid-market companies. Reach him at (770) 449-9696.