GM IT chief outlines web services strategy

In an interview Tony Scott, chief technology officer of the information systems and services organisation at General Motors, has...

In an interview Tony Scott, chief technology officer of the information systems and services organisation at General Motors, has outlined the car giant's plans for using web services technology at the hearts of its business.

Do you feel web services have been overhyped?

I would not write off any technology that the likes of Microsoft and Sun and other large companies like IBM have invested hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars or so in R&D. The likelihood is pretty good that it's going to hang around and be something significant.

At GM, we're interested in it from a number of different perspectives. We've all lived through the embryonic stages of the web and all the EAI (enterprise application integration) tools and the big application packages, so we don't see web services as the panacea, the end-all, be-all that's going to replace everything else. But it does fit, or appear to fit, in the web development space in particular, where we can take certain kinds of activities that we're embedding in each and every application we build today and externalise them as a service and only do, for example, maintenance and repair on that service in one place, rather than in hundreds of applications.

Can you cite an example?

Obviously, every car has a vehicle identification number. And there are dozens, if not hundreds of applications in GM that use vehicle identification numbers for something as a part of our normal business process. Today, we have to embed lots of business logic and rules in every single application that uses vehicle identification numbers.

One of the things we are working towards is creating a vehicle identification number web service that, in effect, will encapsulate all of the logic and business rules and so on - let's call them the big rules around vehicle identification number - so that you don't have to support and maintain that in hundreds of applications.

The positive benefits of that on quality, on consistency and so on, I think you can probably imagine. It's pretty significant.

Have you settled on a development environment for web services?

We're unlikely to pick just one, given the breadth of GM. In a company the size of GM, it's really hard to pick one and then make a case that that's going to meet all the needs of everybody at GM. But we do like to pick a few.

Do you have any web services in production?

Yes, we have a few internal. Where we tended to put them in production generically are in places like our GMAC unit, our financial services arena, where it's not running 60 factories around the world. Generally what they're doing is application-to-application interface in a smaller-scale environment.

What benefits will GM gain from web services?

I think the benefits will come not just from web services but more from a broader context within which web services fit, which is all-around reuse - better initial architecture understanding.

What are your greatest concerns as you head down the web services path?

One is fragmentation. There's a sordid history in the technology world of everybody trying to get a little leverage over somebody else by developing proprietary extensions or vendor-specific add-ons to the core technology. In general, those have been bad, because they don't end up being sustainable over time and that costs companies like GM a lot of money.

The other area that worries me is that, while I think there's a lot of benefits to standardisation and interoperability, from a security and risk standpoint, hackers or people with evil intentions have an opportunity to exploit a flaw and create the equivalent of an electronic weapon of mass destruction, if you will.

GM outsources its IT operations. Will GM outsource web services development?

Yes. All of it will be. We're 100% outsourced. There's no team of people here that are coding, building and implementing business applications.

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