Today, the Internet is the core medium for exchanging information. In the future, it will operate more and more as a platform for providing services – and will also be an Internet of Services. At least, that’s the conclusion that was reached at a symposium organized by the German Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech), which took place in Berlin on September 14, 2010 and to which high-caliber experts from the worlds of politics, business, and academia were invited. The event attended by SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe, Martin Jetter, executive member IBM Germany, and Siemens board member Hermann Requardt, among others.
The Internet of Services is destined to make the services offered on the Web easier to find, compare, and link together. Consumers and the Business-to-Business sector will benefit from a larger and better organized portfolio of offerings, in which small businesses and midsize companies will also be able to participate without difficulty.
Read on: Help when the hailstones hit
Help when the hailstones hit
Currently, frustration and laborious research are still the norm when service providers attempt to combine to form a value chain. But the Internet of Services promises an end to this: It offers technologies that help in the provision of value-added services. At the acatech symposium, the experts looked at the example of a claim in the car insurance sector – and saw the potential strengths of the Internet of Services.
If an insurer receives a claim for damage caused to a vehicle by hailstones, it needs to involve a number of other companies – such as a rental car provider, a breakdown service, a car repair shop, an appraiser, or an auditing-service provider. They all need to be found, commissioned, and paid, which are time-consuming activities. Web-based services can make life easier for all the parties involved and create transparency.
The idea is that the insurer uses a service platform to find approved car repair shops, breakdown services, and rental car providers – as well as one-stop services – and then to offer them to the claimant. Specifications related to time, costs, and qualifications can be met fast and simply. Appraisers can be called upon, if required, and can add their appraisals to the case electronically and directly. SAP Research is working on creating a service platform for registering, publishing, searching, distributing, and – in the end – trading the services.
USDL – a new language for describing services
To translate this vision into reality, standards are required to guarantee that the service description can be understood by both people and machines and can be deployed efficiently. That’s why the Unified Service Description Language (USDL) (http://www.internet-of-services.com/index.php?id=288&L=0) was developed. USDL is more comprehensive than other models for describing services, such as the Web Services Description Language (WSDL) for Web services. In particular, it covers generic business information, operational aspects as well as technical issues of almost all kinds of electronic and manual services. This business information includes price plans, licenses, and service level agreements, which are all relevant to the parties in the value chain.
The goal of USDL is to describe services in such a way that they can be exchanged and consumed under the same conditions, regardless of whether they are automatically or manually provided. Currently, USDL is being validated at various midmarket companies. The results of the validation will be included in the standardization process.
Establishing a global IT standard
“Services are an integral part of developed economies. Through IT, they can be offered, combined, and in many cases also performed in a new medium,” says Orestis Terzidis, head of the SAP Research Center in Karlsruhe, Germany. “Using the Unified Service Description Language, the aim is to establish a global IT standard, which will be devised together with the committees of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).” In addition to SAP, partners in the newly founded W3C USDL Incubator Group are Attensity Europe (previously known as Empolis), Siemens, and the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI).
USDL is the result of several research projects in which SAP Research is involved. One of these research projects is TEXO, which is part of the THESEUS research program, initiated by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi). THESEUS strives to make a contribution to a burgeoning Web-based knowledge infrastructure in which knowledge can be better refined and used on the Internet.
Infrastructure for the life cycle of services
Within the framework of its activities, the TEXO project team is developing an infrastructure for Business Webs in the Internet of Services. A key part of this is designing an infrastructure for the life cycle of services. This infrastructure comprises tools for innovation, development, and procurement, as well as for executing and using services. In terms of procurement, for example, a marketplace has been created on which services described using USDL can be placed and traded.
“Using USDL, services can be reliably described and easily understood by their consumers,” says Rainer Ruggaber, enterprise architect at German Internet service provider 1&1. USDL will offer companies the opportunity to address new channels such as app stores or service parks quickly and simply. “USDL will start getting interesting for 1&1 as soon as it has gained wide acceptance among Internet service providers and once users have access to suitable toolkits,” Ruggaber continues. Then the entire service and information sector will be able to reap the benefits of USDL.