Dr. Robert S. Sutor

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Do You Do Web Services?

Do You Do Web Services?

(October 29, 2002) - Web services is the hot IT buzz word today, but I'd be willing to wager that most people in the business world aren't really sure what the term even means. Web services technologies allow businesses to share the information they have stored in their computer applications. That information can be shared with other applications in the company or with external applications customers and partners run.

It's no secret that there are many processes necessary to keep a business running. Customer data is housed in databases. Accounting applications handle billing and purchasing. Phone calls and faxes are often necessary to handle interactions with business partners or different parts of large organizations. Consider just a few of the processes for a clothing retailer.

  1. A large customer purchases 200 shirts online.
  2. The shirts are shipped to the customer.
  3. The order is tracked until it reaches the customer.
  4. A bill is sent to the customer. Customer payment is tracked and recorded.
  5. More shirts are made to replenish the stock.
  6. More fabric, buttons, and thread are ordered.
  7. The people who operate the sewing machines are paid.
  8. The customer data is maintained in a customer relationship management database.
It can easily take weeks or months for all the processes associated with a single transaction to be completed, particularly the financial processes. The goal of Web services is to connect all those processes online and increase the amount of automation in businesses. Now imagine how that same clothing retailer's business could look if it had an e-business infrastructure based on Web services. Instead of phone calls and faxes, and employees typing and retyping the same information into multiple applications, a single transaction could set off a series of other transactions just like a row of dominos lined up on a table. Instead of taking weeks for all the processes to be completed, it could take minutes. Speed is increased, and human error is taken out of the equation.

To increase the level of automation, businesses have to have consistent descriptions of the software that is used to execute various parts of the transactions. Odds are that there is not going to be one piece of software or a single business process with a partner that serves every need a business has. The business may be talking to internal inventory applications, suppliers, or companies that can ship the final product. Somehow all these transactions must be combined in a way to accomplish whatever task needs to occur.

Developing the technology to do this e-business integration is a multiyear task, and I would say we are at about year two and a half of a four- or five-year process. I think there are three major phases to the rollout of the technology underlying Web services. The first phase was the basic connection phase, and it ended in late 2001. This year started with a lot of energy and focus on ensuring that future Web services transactions will be secure and reliable. This effort is now firmly entrenched in IT community organizations called standards bodies that ensure we will have a consistent set of basic building blocks created out of industry consensus. This middle phase around security and reliability is well underway. The last big phase is what I call the enterprise phase. This is where you're talking about things like transactions and business processes, addressing questions like "How do I actually tie together and manage all of this software I've deployed?"

Footwear and apparel manufacturer Vans has already begun to implement Web services. Vans had an e-commerce system in place that allowed it to take orders over the Web, but the company needed to change payment service partners to reduce operational costs and improve response times for online purchases. It was important to Vans that it be able to easily integrate its existing applications with business partners' applications now and in the future, regardless of which technology vendor's products either company runs.

Vans also wanted to ensure that adding or changing business partner services in the future could be accomplished easily using universal interfaces independent of specific technology tied to a single software vendor.

Vans purchased Internet software based on an important and widely used computer language called Java. The company was able to deploy its solution rapidly in the midst of a changing business environment. It was also able to reuse existing application assets, because the new software was based on what we in the IT industry call open standards. Vans improved responsiveness to consumers by reducing the turnaround time for online purchases and increasing efficiencies in its sales processes.

More Stories By Dr. Robert S. Sutor

Dr. Bob Sutor is Director of Marketing for IBM's WebSphere Foundation Software as well as its Web services and SOA efforts. A 21 year veteran of
IBM, Sutor has spent most of his career in IBM Research, specializing in symbolic computation and Internet publishing. In 1999 he moved to the IBM Software Group and focused on jump starting industry use of XML. This led to positions on the Board of Directors of the OASIS standards group and the vice chairmanship of the ebXML effort, a joint OASIS/United Nations endeavor. Sutor then led IBM's industry standards and Web services strategy efforts. He currently leads IBM's marketing efforts around the WebSphere Application Server and enterprise modernization software. Sutor is a frequent speaker on WebSphere, Web services, and Service Oriented Architecture. He is widely cited in the press and was recently featured in interviews in the Harvard Business Review and InfoWorld.

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LA 10/30/02 02:11:00 PM EST

the author is surely not developer :)