The confusion over Web services

Web services are at risk of being overlooked because of misdirected marketing efforts.

Web services are at risk of being overlooked because of misdirected marketing efforts.

I came away from a recent Microsoft presentation on Web services with a sinking feeling. I had sat and listened while Microsoft enthusiastically explained that for Web services to be successful you have to make IT the centre of your business.

Although Microsoft is not alone in this belief, these bold claims are creating confusion as to what Web services can offer and, unless there is a radical change in this approach, we could be on the cusp of another doomed self-fulfilling IT prophecy.

Contrary to popular belief, IT is not the pulse that keeps the enterprise going. It is all about business - making money, cutting costs and streamlining processes for a leaner and meaner company.

As an industry, we have to stop kidding ourselves that the board's first and only concern is its IT. This mentality will have dire consequences for Web services if it is perpetuated - accentuated by the fact that we are marketing it to the wrong audience, making the technology sound more complicated than it actually is and positioning it as a "vanilla" solution.

Web services are all about giving a company an automated business process and the problem we currently face is that the industry is gearing the marketing - incorrectly - towards the IT profession. IT departments may now know what Web services are, but do their business decision-making colleagues?

By disenfranchising the business community through failing to communicate Web services' benefits, we risk sending a great technology to the sidelines before it has a chance to mature. Web services need to be seen by business decision-makers as a strategic solution rather than an IT whim.

As a firm believer that Web services offer compelling business benefits, I am convinced that the technology has to be discussed in commercial circles to guarantee success.

As an industry we have always been guilty of making IT sound more complicated than it really is - a problem that Web services is currently suffering from. As a result conclusions will be drawn in business echelons that the technology will create disruption because it is yet another change to the IT strategy.

The fact is that Web services are simple. It is not a radically new concept, more an extension of current enterprise application integration (EAI) technologies. By using open standards and wrappering we are creating a reusable EAI bridge that does not need to be re-engineered to bring on new supply chains or applications.

Web services, by nature, are not easy to nail down, all of us have our own view on how they look and feel. However, if you compare Web services with EAI, it does not appear to be complicated, but simply a natural evolution of existing technology. Businesses need to understand that Web services do not equate to a revolution in existing systems where downtime and blown IT budgets will prevail - they represent the next sensible option to consider when looking at ways to develop a competitive edge.

Having spent the past 20 years seeing technologies hailed as the next great hope fail through perceived shortcomings, I believe that Web services has to be seen as nothing more than the next generation of EAI.

Neither should Web services be seen as a vanilla solution. In fact, "Web services" can mean something different to every company you speak to. You define your organisation's Web services strategy, not adopt one supplier's technology.

I know of a council that chose Linux over Windows because Microsoft controls the desktop, and for it to have the same control over the council's Web services strategy was thought to be too much to bear.

This does not need to happen, given that Web services' raison d'etre is to offer open standards-based, application interoperability.

For Web services to build on its strengths the industry needs to change its approach. The days of focusing new technology at just the IT level have gone and the case for the whole business needs to be put forward.

Web services technology is a real milestone in IT development, but suppliers, IT departments and business managers need to ensure they are all singing from the same hymn sheet to secure its long-term success.

Jon Newlyn is business development manager at Attachmate
This was last published in July 2002

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