Alex Oliveri

Thursday, 26 February 2004 09:56

Web services unraveled

Technology has enabled businesses to do something they couldn't have done before - have real-time, up-to-the-minute access to information about inventory, pricing, purchasing and order status. Web services make the management of that information easier than it's ever been.

Total integration

Web services are software components that allow communication between applications written in almost any programming language. This means you can securely and accurately share information between systems both within your company and with suppliers, customers and vendors.

Consolidation of data helps you run more efficiently by reducing duplication and giving you access to more timely and accurate information. Web services allow one application to find, understand and communicate with other applications. Think of it as application-to-application, or A2A, integration.

A2A integration has been attempted before with varying degrees of success. Web services have succeeded where other technologies have failed because they introduce standards by which applications can be integrated - standards that all of the major software and application vendors have endorsed and adopted. Giants including IBM, Microsoft, Novell and Oracle have excellent support for creating Web services, while vertical vendors including SAP, Siebel and Peoplesoft offer support for Web services interfaces.

Since so much has been standardized, implementing a Web services solution should be fairly straightforward. After implementation, your access to timely information -- whether inventory, pricing, purchasing or other -- should be easy, if not automatic.

After the budget bombs of the late 1990s, there's a fair amount of skepticism whenever a new technology is introduced. Those who are weary of new software initiatives will be relieved to know that Web services won't drain their IT budget. If anything, Web services can help you get more life out of existing applications by providing total A2A integration.

No matter what software you are using in-house, you should be able to take advantage of your vendors' software development toolkit in order to test the waters before making the plunge.

Testing the waters

The first step in a total migration is to identify a pilot project within your organization. The project should integrate two heterogeneous applications with a reasonable task, and the goal should be to automate a process where the movement of information is done manually with Web services. Pick an easy task, one that can be completed within three to six weeks.

Once the project is completed, you can continue extending your legacy solutions at your own pace, using Web services.

A short pilot project will help you uncover any issues you might face during a total migration to Web services. If your staff doesn't have experience with standard Web services languages (such as XML, SOAP and WSDL) you may want to contract a Web services expert to act as a mentor during the pilot program.

A Web services expert will help ensure your project's success while giving valuable coaching to your technical team.

The key to success is to establish measurable parameters to ensure you're getting what you want in the timeframe you've established. And be sure that the deliverable is not only for the Web services to be functional, but also for a methodology to be developed and for knowledge to be transferred so the process can be repeated once the mentor leaves.

Improved business processes

In addition to integrating applications and providing real-time access to information, Web services will help you gain access and manage security to remote systems, which will add significant value both within your company and with your trading partners.

Timing, accuracy and productivity will improve, as will overall service with any of the organizations involved.

Alex Oliveri (aoliveri@bravepoint.com) is vice president of BravePoint, a supplier of e-business and enterprise IT solutions to mid-market companies. Reach him at (770) 449-9696.