E-commerce: Vision on-line

E-commerce is a mixed bag for customers and until a common platform is created the potential of Web services won't be realised

E-commerce is a mixed bag for customers and until a common platform is created the potential of Web services won't be realised

It's amazing how many VARs have made the change from out-and-out networking company to partner with a strong presence in e-commerce. Corporate UK is seeing the huge benefits from investing in Internet solutions to improve relationships with customers, employees and suppliers.

In some ways the Internet is mature but in others it is incredibly primitive. For example, a visit to a Web site is really just a one-on-one session with someone's mainframe; there is no memory or connection between it and other sites and so data has to be entered constantly: there is no sense of a common platform.

A shared experience
It would be great to move from this world of separate Web sites to a world of connected Web services that gave great user experience and seamlessly shared data. There is so much more that we would be able to do with such a platform, which is why Microsoft is investing so heavily in the .NET framework.

For this vision to become a customer reality developments are needed in four key areas.
  • A framework for Web services

  • Service capability on multiple devices - especially mobile ones

  • Software delivered as a service

  • Partners to develop the applications and sell and deliver the services

A Web services framework gives developers a platform on which to create customer applications in the form of Web services. In the same way as Windows provides a common developer framework, .NET will enable developers to concentrate on customer experience, rather than worry about the 'plumbing'. The success of this vision will critically depend upon the range and capability of third-party Web services.

Software as service
Another requirement is delivery of software using a hosted, subscription-based model. A Web service isn't just an item to buy and install, it is some-thing to be used and licensing models have to support this.

The pure ASP model is slowly building momentum and there have been a number of recent licensing changes to enable the development of a successful software-as-a-service model. Then there is the availability of Web services on any device.

There are some excellent new devices about to hit the streets, combining PDA and mobile phone capabilities and moving much closer to the idea of an information appliance. Windows CE, the embedded operating system for mobile and connected devices, could be a platform for this.

Make the connection
The final and most important aspect of developing successful Web services are partnerships, vital for developing applications, system integration, customer acquisition and deployment. Basically, partners will fill all of today's roles as well as provide Web services.

Partners should evolve their businesses over the next few years accordingly, to step up to this challenge as they have done in the past. Because Web services enable customers to do new and amazing things, they will create a whole world of new and lucrative opportunities for VARs.

Stephen Uden is head of Partner Marketing at Microsoft

The .NET experience
Microsoft .NET, Microsoft's XML Web services platform, provides:
  • A software platform, a programming model and tools to build and integrate XML Web services

  • Secure interaction with a range of smart devices via the Web: in contrast to silos of information divided by provider, .NET experiences are centred around users, integrating their data and preferences into a single application.
  • Smart devices are Web- enabled appliances, such as personal computers, hand-helds and smart phones with software that makes them more intelligent in their interactions with users, the network, information and other devices and services.

  • Connected XML Web services: through the use of XML and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), a range of tailored services can be fed into a single, integrated experience.
  • Read more on Web software