Chief Technology Officer
Web Services promise to significantly change how computers are used to support business processes and industry seems poised to bring this promise to reality. Every major software manufacture has spoken openly about how their products will support Web Services. Unlike earlier technologies, Web Services can readily be deployed to leverage existing systems and make them part of the evolving Web Service network. Indeed, if the promise becomes reality, “Web Services represent a major shift in power from the software and hardware vendor to the software and hardware consumer.”.
The challenge is to fully take advantage of the shift in power you must deploy IT resources to adopt Web Services in a way that increases value to your business and increases competitive advantage. This paper will present options for getting started and identify what we believe will be necessary parts of your strategy to truly add business value in a rapidly evolving environment.
Web Services are the latest evolutionary step in distributed computing. They combine open, proposed and vendor standards with proprietary technology to enable computers to communicate and collaborate. Web Services are most often described by their primary standards:
Strategically, it is important to note that none of the core Web Services standards addresses process or information requirements. WSDL describes operations, but not how to coordinate them. WSDL and XML Schemas describe data constraints (structures and types), but not the semantics or meaning of the data that describes how data relates to other data in services or systems. Accounting for these business process and data semantics requirements is the key challenge for your Web Services strategy. A successful strategy must assure services can be integrated with other information systems and managed with sufficient flexibility to be effective regardless of how the technology, standards, and business requirements may evolve.
Getting started with web services now allows you to explore and learn how web services strategies can impact your overall integration strategy and, ultimately, your company. The first step is to select a platform. Platforms provide a variety of services and functions that make developing web services faster and easier. Platforms must meet needs and requirements from a variety of sources. Web Services fundamentally perform one of three roles; requestor, provider or discovery agent and each of these roles have differing needs. Service operators will have different needs than developers or those who are service-enabling existing computing systems.
Initially, a single platform may meet your needs. Features such as wizard-style design tools and sophisticated user interfaces offered by these technologies make it easy to develop and deploy Web Services. Over time, new needs or changes in technology may make dictate additional tools of a different platform. No problem, this is one the major benefits of the open standards used by Web Services. For example, you can start with an application server such as BEA’s WebLogic Server and later add Actional’s SOAPstation Web Services Management Platform for service-enabling capability.
Regardless of the platform selection, it is only the first step in harnessing the power of web services. Platforms provide the ability to expose existing systems and encapsulate business processes, but they don’t provide a means to unify the data that drive business processes. For this, you need to adopt a modeling strategy that can address the underlying semantics of the data used both within enterprise software systems and web services and to relate these semantics to your business processes.
Contivo’s Enterprise Integration Modeling solutions provide model driven capability needed to unify the data integrated into business processes. Using EIM, description of the data needed for a web service can be imported from a WSDL file then modeled to identify key data elements and their relationships to data in other web services and your ERP, CRM, SCM and other enterprise information systems. To transform data from an existing application for use in a web service XSLT or Java code can be quickly and easily created.
The EIM approach allows Web Services to be quickly deployed without having to change existing systems, and provides the flexibility to quickly accommodate system changes or new applications and web services. And, because the Contivo design environment supports the key Web Services standards (XML Schema, WSDL, XSLT), EIM can work with a wide variety of platforms, protecting your strategic investment from inevitable technology changes.
The Web Services landscape is rapidly evolving. The core standards are changing, existing, dominant vendors are radically changing their offerings and new vendors are vying for visibility. As time goes on, the simplification of system integration will increase the number of systems that can participate and enable more distributed business processes to be developed. As the number of integrations using document-centric and loosely-coupled web services, the impact on business will increase.
“In the short term (through 2003), the primary business application of Web Services will be to improve integration. Typical enterprises should expect to reduce integration costs a moderate amount. However, the real business value from Web Services lies in its longer term potential. As the various components of the Web Services model fall into place and enterprises learn how to best take advantage of Service-oriented architectures, Web Services technologies will both continue to save money by simplifying system integration, as well as improve the top line by enabling additional business models and their associated revenue streams.” The potential to impact both the bottom- and top-line is what makes the Web Services promise so compelling.
How will integration on this global scale impact your business? If the history of the Web can act as guide, the impact on business models is unpredictable. What is predictable is the need for flexibility and manageability to assure your company can lead during the evolution. The EIM approach to modeling enterprise information resources can both enhance the short term cost reductions and prepare an enterprise for rapid change in internal processes, customer interactions and supply-chain arrangements and capitalize on their potential.
Please send your comments to Dave Hollander. This document was updated 10/9/2002.