LOS ANGELES -- Safeco Corp., a Seattle-based insurance and financial services company, has no Web services in production, but folks like system manager Elvind Nielsen are scouting the internal landscape for simple services that potentially could be exposed enterprise-wide.
A large North American toy manufacturer, meanwhile, is in an early implementation stage. Employees now have easy access to account balance information thanks to a Web service that's blazing the company's trail to what it hopes will be a service-oriented architecture.
They are in different vertical markets, at different stages of Web services implementations, but the ties that bind are consistent.
Application development efficiency, code reuse and standardization
Those tenets were reinforced Monday at Gartner Inc.'s Application Integration and Web Services Summit, as the Stamford, Conn.-based firm's research directors stressed that Web services add value to applications, cut development costs and bring IT in line with business goals.
"Web services are the next generation of the Internet," said vice president and Gartner fellow David M. Smith. "Web services are all about the process of standardization. There's not a lot of value in Web services by themselves. The value is in the standardization that's happening."
Safeco, for example, manages independent agents, each with its own legacy applications. Reusing data enterprise-wide is a growing mandate.
Nielsen would need only look at the toy manufacturer, who requested anonymity, for an example of the efficiency he desires.
"People used to bypass the need to get (account balance information)," said a developer from the manufacturer. "They'd figure it out later. The Web service has brought the data closer."
SOA is a design principle the manufacturer hopes to achieve, but it's not without its pitfalls.
"It's tough because you have to invest in new skill sets and you are going against things that have worked in the past," the developer said.
Gartner research director Whit Andrews, meanwhile, said that companies in the early stages of implementation like these two are like most enterprises. Andrews identified four stages of adoption:
- Education – Here, enterprises get no benefit from Web services, and spend most time researching what others are doing with Web services and tinkering with public Web services such as the Google API.
- Experimentation – Here, enterprises have three or four Web services in production and small teams of developers dedicated to these projects. "At this stage, you don't need to be efficient," Andrews said. "Take time to learn what it takes. Learn your lessons, things will take a while."
- Execution – Here, efficiency improves and enterprises move toward governance; Web services and SOA become strategic. Innovation slips here, as new projects are examined closely for redundancies.
- Embrace it – Here, an enterprise has hundreds of services in production for internal and external customers.
"Once you are efficient, then you can improve your experiences," Andrews said.
Andrews recommended that enterprises now should take steps to improve internal application development efficiencies, identify where there is reuse potential, pilot vendor-provided Web services and direct developers to experiment with public Web services like the Google API. By the end of the year, he said, companies should be supporting customers and partners with basic account information and establish salable services where appropriate.