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Inside every Web service is a benefit struggling to get out

Figuring out why to use Web services is not so straightforward. CBDi Forum examines the cost benefit model.

Market Commentary

After a couple of years of hype you would imagine everyone is now familiar with the justification for using Web Services. And yet, on many occasions the industry still struggles to clearly put across the benefits of Web services and articulate precisely how they differ from existing technology solutions.

The issue is that superficially much of the benefits that are attributed to Web services have also been claimed by pretty much every new technology over the past n years. You might realistically argue that the IT industry is well known for hyperbole and exaggeration, and that reality generally falls short of expectations. Things like "improving business agility", "reducing time to market", etc are still valid - but not entirely new. Why is Web services going to deliver this time? Consequently, there is a real need to be much more precise about the specific cost savings and benefits for both business and IT that can reasonably be attributed to Web services.

This is not so surprising because Web services have been a technology led paradigm, and early usage has often been in the area of internal integration where benefits are quite straightforward. Grand visions of everything being connected in dynamic real time scenarios are one thing, but most organizations have more mundane problems to solve. And so we seemingly get stuck in the middle, not always knowing which aspect of Web services to highlight. Too visionary and the audience gets scared (early adoption = risk), too mundane and they get bored (their existing solutions suffice)

Also, the constant evolution of Web services means that the benefits keep evolving too. What started out as a simple distributed computing solution can now be applied to wider range of connectivity scenarios. So just what are Web services now? Is it just a better, cheaper, faster (BCF) interface for existing EAI, distributed computing, EDI or other scenarios? Or is it more than that? Of course there should be every reason to use Web Services if they are truly BCF in these scenarios, but this is largely an IT centric message. And a frequent response is that existing solutions in these scenarios are mature and largely get the job done – so why convert to Web services?

Perhaps because the ideas are more abstract, we often see the industry failing to put across what are some of the key differentiators of Web Services. For example the richness of the service specification that can be conveyed in WSDL and emerging business process orchestration standards that enable self describing services and self discovering applications. If you just need your developer to connect A to B, then EAI might suffice. But if you want A to dynamically find B, and later switch to C, without developer intervention, and regardless of the technology that A, B and C use, then Web services is the only solution.

There are two ways to look at Web services, which we can term Conversion and Exploitation. Conversion is doing what we do today, but BCF thanks to Web services. Exploitation is doing the things we can't do today, thanks to Web services. You could also look at this as Evolution and Revolution. Not surprisingly, early results from our Web Services Survey indicate that the majority of respondents are using Web services in-house for EAI and distributed computing scenarios. And while many of them are also exposing Web services externally to improve partner relationships virtually none of them are using UDDI or WSDL that would enable their services to be discovered. I.e., it is largely conversion, not exploitation.

A key message here of course is not to focus the attention of a risk adverse, sceptical audience on revolutionary exploitation, and vice-versa. It is much better to take them through the two stages – here's how you can get ROI for the business and IT today through conversion, and here's how you will improve that in future with exploitation.

One encouraging further early result from our survey is that organizations site business benefits of adopting Web service as equally as strong a motivation as IT benefits, if not stronger.

So, what then are the cost benefits and motivations for using Web services? And what are the precise features that deliver them? It is too long to go into the necessary detail in this newswire, so instead we invite all members to visit our website and read our initial thoughts on-line, and also to take part in a debate there and share your own views and experiences.

Please send comments to david.sprott@cbdiforum.com

Copyright CBDi Forum Limited 2002. The CBDi Forum is an analysis firm and think tank, providing insight on component and web service technologies, processes and practices for the software industry and its customers. To register for the weekly newswire click here.

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