Web Services Standards Create Complex New Alphabet Soup for E-Business

“Webify.” That’s the word analyst Laura DiDio, of researcher Yankee Group Inc., used to describe what companies are trying to do with their enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other key systems. They want to put crucial business processes on the Internet, and make them accessible to all units and even to outside partners. DiDio was speaking March 18 to a crowd of 300 high-level executives in Santa Clara, Calif. They gathered to learn as much as possible about how to use Web services across the enterprise. SAP AG, Hubspan Inc. and other e-business companies were on hand as sponsors and featured speakers.
Although just 7 percent to 10 percent of leading companies are “webified” now, said DiDio, many more will try Web services in 2003 and 2004. Analysts say Web services can squeeze more value out of existing systems. They can streamline tasks, improve communication and reduce total cost of technology ownership. But DiDio said enterprises are moving to the Web cautiously, as they try to get a handle the many new protocols and platforms that have grown around the niche. From XML and UDDI to SOAP and WSDL, e-business requires an entirely new language.

Ensuring that products are interoperable

Some of the major groups
Some of the major groups

“There’s a new alphabet soup of acronyms,” said DiDio. Some 22 different standards are in the mix and a number of coalitions have sprung up to support them. OASIS, ebXML.org and W3C are a few examples. Web services integrators and software vendors must ensure products are interoperable, said DiDio. If they’re not, a company could find itself with a Web system that won’t “talk” to another Web system. That could cause a breakdown in business and productivity. “Proprietary is a dirty word. It’s anathema to be avoided at all costs,” she said.
SAP’s Peter Graf, vice president of marketing for the Collaborative Solutions Group, also spoke at the Yankee event. He said that SAP’s NetWeaver and xApps are part of a new open, interoperable Web-based Enterprise Services Architecture or ESA. SAP ESA applications are compatible with the dominant Web development platforms, such as Microsoft Corp.’s .NET and IBM Corp.’s Java-based WebSphere, he said. Also at the event, Sinisa Zimek, director of technology architecture at SAP Labs, was announced as the newest OASIS board member, affirming SAP’s commitment to open standards.

Until standards are clear, companies will move slowly towards the Web

Although wading through the new Web services alphabet soup is complex, it’s also crucial, said Jon Derome, another Yankee analyst. As the industry moves toward a set of accepted standards integration “cost and risk” will be reduced, he said. Without such standards, “It’s incredibly expensive to automate public processes,” he said.
Integrating Web services into a company requires “new deployment approaches, new design patterns, new skills and tools and more costs,” said Howard Smith, author of the book, “Business Process Management: The Third Wave,” and chief technology officer of Computer Sciences Corp. He warned that until standards are clear, companies will move slowly toward the Web. A careful approach will stop Web services from becoming part of the 85 percent of enterprise IT projects that already don’t meet expectations, he said.

The Goal is to standardize technology tasks

Zeus Kerravala, Yankee’s vice president for applications infrastructure and software platforms, enterprise computing and networking, told the group that the overriding goal of Web services is to standardize technology tasks. He cited the following technologies and protocols as key to performing specific Web services tasks:

  • Internet Protocol or IP, Hyptertext Transfer Protocol or HTTP, and Simple Mail Transfer Protocol or SMTP are used to transport communications widely.
  • Extensible Markup Language or XML is used to share disparate code and content.
  • Simple Object Access Protocol or SOAP is used to communicate with and discover other Web services.
  • Web Services Description Language or WSDL is used to describe a Web service for specific uses.
  • Universal Description, Discovery and Integration or UDDI is used to publish and locate Web services.

Finally, Venu Vasudevan, a fellow of the technical staff at Motorola Labs, offered his market definition for Web services. He said they are “identified by an http URL and they have public interfaces described in XML.” He said their “definitions can be discovered by other services and they perform service interaction via XML.”

Sarah Z. Sleeper
Sarah Z. Sleeper