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One nerd's view of Web services

How are businesspeople going to understand the power and complexity of Web services, if they can't understand the techies?

Guest Commentary
One nerd's view of Web services

ZapThink LLC, special to SearchWebServices
by Jason Bloomberg

I have a confession to make. I was one of those math nerds you remember from high school -- you know the type: finished calculus in tenth grade, won the state math contest, got a perfect score on the analytical GRE (the SAT for grad school). Now, before you roll your eyes (oops! too late!), let me make my point. Back then, people like me were ostracized, relegated to "chess club limbo" while everybody else went to parties, got in trouble, and basically acted like regular high school kids.

Now that we're all adults, that old social division from high school still haunts us in the form of "technical" and "nontechnical" people. Look inside any company or on any job board and this division is readily apparent. A techie's resume is chock-full of acronyms, and careers tend to progress by tackling more complex projects. On the other hand, a nontechnical person's resume is supposed to focus on money saved or earned -- "reduced cost by 20%" or "increased revenue by 15%" are the non-techie's equivalent of "developed J2EE-based server solution using WebLogic."

I have a big problem with this dichotomy, because while I cut my teeth in the techie camp, my focus now is on eBusiness -- that is, "e" (meaning technology) plus "business." Therefore, I don't fall on either side of the divide any more. Now, while clearly people must specialize in their field of interest, regardless of whether it is technical or nontechnical, I see a large gap in the business world when it comes to business-savvy technologists (or technical businesspeople, if you will). Sure, eBusiness is just business, as the dot.com backlash has taught us, but there's no getting around the fact that technology is becoming increasingly pervasive in the business world.

This technical vs. nontechnical dichotomy is no more apparent than in the world of Web Services. The attention Web services are getting in the technical world has reached a fever pitch. Every software vendor, it seems, is weighing in with some kind of Web Service widget or doodad. All the techie-heavy standards bodies (talk about chess club limbo!) are buzzing with discussions about the alphabet soup of Web services protocols. From the techie perspective, any company that uses technology (meaning virtually all of them) should be getting onto the Web services bandwagon.

From the business perspective, it's a different story altogether. Ask a typical executive what Web services are, and the best answer you're likely to get are Web pages that offer services. (If that's what you think as well, then please read my latest article on Web services.) The business press has made a few forays into this topic, but most either get Web services entirely wrong, or at best provide a superficial explanation of them (see the March 18th issue of BusinessWeek for a great example).

How are businesspeople going to understand the power, complexity, and risks of Web services, if they can't understand the techies, and the business press gives them nothing but superficialities? The answer is, many won't, at least not until it's too late.

You see, the marketplace for Web services at this moment is what an economist might call irrational -- that is, large portions of the market do not have complete and accurate information, and thus their actions will not be those of participants who have good information. In simpler terms, the prevalent lack of understanding about Web services provides both enormous threats as well as enormous opportunities.

There are great opportunities for those companies and individuals who understand both the business and the technology of Web services, and there are corresponding threats to those who don't have that understanding. Keep in mind, however, that such a situation is necessarily temporary; it's only a matter of time till the clueless get a clue. It may be too late for them, but it will also be too late for everybody else, as well. Now is the time to leverage an understanding of what's going on in the world of information technology, because while there are great risks, there is also the promise of great reward.

Copyright 2002 ZapThink LLC provides quality, high-value, focused research, analysis, and insight on emerging technologies that will have a high impact on the way business will be run in the future. To register for a free email subscription to ZapFlash, click here.

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