Internet of Services

Feature Article | August 28, 2008 by Vasco Alexander Schmidt

“Innovative companies will soon take greater advantage of service-oriented IT architecture to offer services to their customers or to make use of the services themselves,” said Rainer Ruggaber, a senior researcher at SAP Research in Karlsruhe, Germany, and leader of the TEXO use case within the THESEUS program. “The web-based service economy is still a vision, but we are in the process of answering the technical questions one by one.”

The TEXO use case addresses “Business Webs in the Internet of Services.” SAP is working together with ten partners from industry and academia on the project, which is supported by Germany’s Ministry of Economics and Technology. The Ministry intends to give the digital service economy a significant boost.

Virtualizing the world of business

The key idea is to extend state-of-the-art service-oriented software architectures to the Internet. “This approach will enable services to be offered more flexibly than before over the Internet, and will make it easier to integrate them into other software,” said Ruggaber. Services are to include not only automated Web services, but also more traditional services that are currently provided by humans.

In the future, people should be able to more do than buy books, book flights, or plan trips on the Internet. They should also be able to make appointments with their child’s pediatrician, coordinate exports to foreign countries, and provide consulting advice for businesses. Ruggaber firmly believes that this virtualization of business and life will make services into tradeable composite goods. “People will be able to trade services and combine them into new kinds of services, a bit like the way that carmakers use parts from suppliers,” he said.

Many experts agree that these new, web-based networks are a great opportunity for SAP. “The Internet of Services has the potential to make the SAP ecosystem even more attractive,” said Ruggaber. The company already offers software solutions and services in cooperation with partners. SAP, its customers and partners are working together in Industry Value Networks to agree on unified standards for services.

“The Internet of Services shows how it is possible to extend this network and add value for everyone involved,” said Ruggaber. In particular, small, agile companies could use such a platform to offer their services worldwide, thus participating in the digital value chain for the benefit of their customers.

New technical platform for services

One of the key questions TEXO addresses is what a technical platform for an Internet of Services would look like. Research on this began in 2007 and is planned to run for four years as part of the THESEUS program, which was started by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. THESEUS is intended to develop new, Internet-based infrastructure to improve the usability of online knowledge.

At the 2008 CeBit, SAP showed the first prototypes of a new business platform for services. The prototypes will also be a topic at Germany’s third national IT summit in November.

SAP is taking on a special role in the development of intelligent applications. The company’s research division provides most of the staff for the TEXO use case, and SAP Research alone has more than 25 researchers working on TEXO. Experts from the German locations of Walldorf, Karlsruhe, Darmstadt, and Dresden, as well as from Brisbane, Australia, are participating in making the vision of an Internet of Services a reality.

Internally, Alistair Barros, of the SAP Research center in Brisbane, drives the exploration of new SAP technology for the Internet of Services. “The Internet of Services will change business relations dramatically,” he said. “We want to actively support SAP customers during this transformation.”

One part of the plan is a market for companies to offer, find, and use services. Transfer projects bring ideas from the research undertakings, like TEXO, and turn them into actual products. Customers include midsize companies, public agencies, and trading and logistics companies.

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