Vision of a Web-Based Service Society

Feature Article | October 8, 2008 by professor Lutz Heuser, Chief Development Architect at SAP AG and vice president of SAP Research

Typical examples of these applications and platforms are wikis, weblogs, or photo and video portals. Another new aspect of the platforms is that they not only provide information, but also perform services for the user. The video platform Youtube.com, for instance, gives users the chance to upload video files and integrate them into Web sites.

From Web 2.0 to Web 3.0

The next generation of the Internet will usher in a two-dimensional expansion that will represent a quantum leap in the type, scope, and use of information in business and social contexts:

  1. Science and economy are working to bridge the gap between the physical and digital realms. This process will make information on identities, locations, and the state of virtually any object available from anywhere. Objects themselves will gain the ability to convey their data, thereby becoming active participants in (business) processes. Popular phrases used describe this phenomenon include “real-world awareness” and “the Internet of Things.”
  2. Available data is set to be supplemented by additional information – metadata – which is just one of the semantic technologies that will help finding and sorting data easier. Through standardized interfaces, Web-service ecosystems, and service-oriented architectures (SOA), companies will be able to exchange data automatically between business processes. Based on this additional data, information and functions will combine to form high-quality services, hence the term “the Internet of Services.”

Merging the new technologies and knowledge-sharing of Web 2.0 with semantic content-analysis concepts and real-world awareness of things will put us closer to the next evolutionary step: Web 3.0.

Business webs – the basis of the service economy

The new technologies and applications in the Internet of Things can be categorized into three technical levels: data/services, infrastructure, and applications. This makes it possible for companies to fully or partially connect their processes and process chains. The semantic technologies eliminate media gaps produced during manual data transfers, enabling these processes to “speak” to each other. Since this all occurs in real time by default, companies can reconfigure their value chains and achieve significant advantages for themselves and their customers, based on, for example, better utilization of production capacity and increased flexibility,

The underlying technology is an IT platform that defines and provides access to services from various sources with the aid of semantic technologies. Based on service-oriented architectures and defined standards, companies can take advantage of these services, both internally and beyond their own organizations, thereby gaining the ability to integrate new information seamlessly into their existing software systems. This is a crucial step toward cross-company creation and use of Web services.

In this context, the business webs concept that SAP Research is currently developing as part of the Texo project is playing a key role. (Texo is part of Germany’s THESEUS program to realize a new, Internet-based knowledge infrastructure.) Business webs constitute the foundation of a new service economy in which groups of companies collaborate to provide complex services. These webs could be considered online analogs of Germany’s Arbeitsgemeinschaften (a type of working association), providing value-added services based on the use of SOA and semantic technologies.

An Example of a Value-Added Service:
Imagine being able to book an all-inclusive vacation tailored exactly to your desires: a hotel that suits you, facilities for your favorite sport, a bathrobe that fits you perfectly, and breakfast just the way you like it. Your flight leaves at a convenient time from the right airport, and your rental car is precisely the class you wanted. All you have to do is visit an information platform, specify your wish to go to Majorca with your family over the Easter vacation, and set your price limit. Before you know it, you are presented with a complete package that accommodates your exact specifications. One click, and everything is reserved. The only other thing you might have to enter is the type of credit card you wish to pay with.

The value such services provide customers is being able to directly locate a complete, individualized offer instead of searching for and comparing separate elements of what they need. The “service broker” finds and assembles these elements based on the information in the customer’s profile.

A macroeconomic dimension

The Web-based service society presents a wide range of opportunities for the German economy. Germany has long been the world’s leading exporter of products; in terms of services, however, the country is primarily an importer. Today, the majority of worldwide value creation and more than 70 percent of Germany’s gross national product is based on services. Business webs and Web-based services thus promise significant growth potential.

The Web-based service economy in the Internet of Services will likely be an integral part of future economic innovation, value creation, growth, and employment.

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