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Don't lose your CIO over Web services

A Meta analyst says CIOs should be wary of taking on too much responsibility for a Web service implementation because projects that go awry could lead to executives getting fired or going to jail. Meta's Douglas Lynn also believes that CIOs face a challenge in finding developers who know how to build services-oriented interfaces.

CIOs are often a company's last line of defense when it comes to technology spending, and figuring out where or how much to invest in Web services is hardly a clear-cut decision. Douglas Lynn, vice president of executive directions with Stamford, Conn.-based analyst firm Meta Group and host of the recent Meta webcast Web services for CIOs, recently spoke with about Web services-related challenges that CIOs face.

Douglas Lynn You've said that CIOs have to decide whether to be on the bleeding edge, on the leading edge or be fast followers when it comes to Web services. Can you explain each of those stances?
Lynn: Bleeding means you've got to accept a high degree of risk. You'll probably do this once and throw it out because someone will come along and productize the functionality that you've had to code yourself. You also have to understand the exposure to the business in terms of what it means to rapidly externalize information with Web services.

Leading edge means you've got a plan to deal with most of the technology; you've probably mapped out business processes and tied them to typical IT applications and services, and you've got your decision mapped out pretty well. Therefore, you've defined the risk-reward potential. There's that typical uncertainly though, just because [of] the risk of failure in execution.

With the fast followers, there's just the risk of bad execution. There is where companies are that have been plagued by this stuff for years and it continues to plagues them. All the major software vendors have bought into Web services. Why do you think that is, and will the promised benefits come to fruition?
Lynn: The reason why the vendors are latching onto this in such [a] broad way is, I think, because right now there's not a lot of buying going on. So if you are perceived to be right on the bleeding edge of technology, you're believed to be very responsive to customer needs.

"A CIO can go to jail if confidential, secure information is getting out there. That's the scary part of Web services, and that's why CIOs need to be on their game in terms of good governance."
--Douglas Lynn Why is it hard to find workers who know how to create services-based interfaces?
Lynn: Because they've never been motivated to do it. From day one, the focus of application development was to build the specification of a business process and get the functionality that I need. Why do you think DBAs occurred in the first place? CIOs needed someone to create a standards-based reusable interface to data. All we're doing now is taking that same concept and applying it to application logic, but application developers have been trained now to do that. Their role has been to build functionality, not to build interfacing. They're not good at that. Web services have been touted as an easier, less expensive way to integrate two or more network-based applications or services, like ERP systems and security interfaces. Do you think CIOs are sold on that?
Lynn: Oh, definitely, because if they don't, their businesses will force them to. The individual business units that understand Web services are saying, "We can do this. Why wait for the IT guys?" So they're trying it themselves. But the CIO has to make sure a policy is in place. If you're going to put a Web services interface on [an application], it needs to be put through a legal verification process because the business might expose itself and give away confidential information.

A CIO can go to jail if confidential, secure information is getting out there. That's the scary part of Web services, and that's why CIOs need to be on their game in terms of good governance. That means [forging] an agreement with the business, finance and IT groups to get together and understand the impact before doing Web services. What do CIOs need to know about Web services standards that they may not consider or which may not be obvious?
Lynn: Don't bet the farm on any one product. The comprehensiveness may be attractive, but it's not important. What is important is the ability of the vendor to keep up with the evolution of and changes in standards. It's about the adaptability of the tool and the agility of the vendors, so the CIO won't have to go buy new people or tools every time a new standard comes out. Finally, it's the end of the year, budget time for most companies. What advice or guidelines do you have for CIOs who may be trying to figure out how much money to spend on Web services next year?
Lynn: Next year, I think most adopters will still be early adopters. So CIOs have got to be able to understand why they're doing Web services. They've got to understand the business impact of externalizing functionality. This concept is really a turbocharger. Web services are not that expensive in terms of the overall cost of the 'vehicle,' but it could really do some damage to the car if it's not adequately prepared. They should figure out if the organization -- not just the business' technology, but also the business -- [can] handle this change, particularly if it's an external Web service. And they should make sure that the risk is shared by the business, finance and technology teams, not just by the CIO, because if that's not the case, and [the project] goes south, they're going to get fired.


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