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Web services as the catalyst for an IT economic bounce back?

Web services is precisely the catalyst we need to spark intelligent spending on making our IT assets work better together.

Guest Commentary
Web services as the catalyst for an IT economic bounce back?
Hurwitz Group, Special to SearchWebServices
by Tyler McDaniel, Director, Application Strategies

Since the king discovered that the coffers were bare, or at least shrinking in 2001, IT spending has been in lock down mode, while all the king's men work to put everything bought in '99 and 2000 together again. At a time when newer generation architectures, such as .NET and J2EE, are either being rolled out or gaining deeper enterprise acceptance, the push is on to make better use of existing computing assets -- hammer down and be sure that every last ounce of computing power is squeezed out of those mainframe applications, those hordes of custom built applications, the expansive packaged applications, and above all cut the operational cost of every e-Business activity we're involved in.

Enter the king's alchemist, complete with new vials of strange looking Web services technology (or perhaps not so strange after all). Hurwitz Group research shows that Web services adoption is moving along quicker than expected, given budgetary lock downs. The adopters are tackling enterprise integration as a primary problem. Developers are very willing to experiment with the new stuff, and C-level decision makers are green-lighting Web services. But this new alchemy shouldn't be surprising, and in fact demonstrates a return to basics in IT departments -- not necessarily a dynamic world of Web services flying all about the network, being presented, consumed, and joined in new revenue generating ways.

We took our eye off the ball in '99 and 2000 in terms of the types of projects we took on and how we declared the success of those projects. We brought in slick and visionary technology to extend our enterprise services out to the many market opportunities just at browser's reach. But just because new technology walked in the door, what was already present didn't suddenly disappear. We spent too long pulling apart our core, existing business processes to grab Internet success at the expense of having efficient back office fulfillment. We walked away from setting up business success parameters for new technology acquisitions. But isn't this the original sin of technology -- a promise for totally new value that comes at any price and demolishes how we previously did business? It is real work to make new technology work with the multiplicity of incumbent technology. It is even more work to roll out reliable and efficient business processes that adequately reflect the value of the technology in the first place. Finally, it requires fiscal due diligence to ensure that the "return" is in the bag.

We need better strategies and technologies to deal with this issue. Web services is one of the technologies and around it Hurwitz Group is seeing executives starting to form up into an actual long-term strategy. From the smallest additive, we transform an otherwise static mixture -- this is the function of the catalyst. How then can Web services be a catalyst?

First look at our static mixture. One of the components in the mixture is frozen budget expenditures. The other components include legacy applications and data, large packaged applications, portal technology, homegrown modern applications, all kinds of things. This mixture has put us into some degree of stasis: What does what? What is it connected to? How does this work together? How can I get this information from point A to point B for the lowest cost and least amount of pain? How much have I spent on all of this?

The issue for Web services is not whether or not it is the greatest technology since yesterday's greatest thing. The issue centers around the use and value of Web services. Web services is precisely the catalyst we need to spark intelligent spending on making our IT assets work better together. Let's not forget that computing heterogeneity is a reality, and we are in a time when market pressures are dictating that our heterogeneous applications work more cohesively together. How can we accomplish this? We accomplish this by having a business strategy that reflects the reality of how we use our IT. This means look at the return on investment and the return on assets that any software gives us. Web services technology is a low cost investment that helps to solve a key problem: integration of various computing assets. I'm not saying that Web services is the only thing, but it gives us a cost-managed means to look closely at how effectively our applications work together. Web services can give us the confidence to truly address our IT integration challenges in a pragmatic fashion - one that delivers business results.

The catalyst sparks the mixture so that we're not afraid to spend our budgets on things that truly need to be fixed in our IT laboratory. Use of Web services technology gets us back on track toward spending our IT dollars on solving today's problem as opposed to building tomorrow's problem, which we were very guilty of not so long ago. Web services can ignite a return to business value spending for IT by keeping us focused on projects that unify application fabrics and business processes.

Copyright 2002 Hurwitz Group Inc. This article is excerpted from TrendWatch, a weekly publication of Hurwitz Group Inc. - an analyst, research, and consulting firm. To register for a free email subscription, click here.

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