The web services market has seen a lot of hype in the past few months. Almost every vendor already claims to sell them, but many of the current offerings barely go beyond PowerPoint presentations. Datamonitor’s Tony Hart casts a wary eye on how far web services have to go before they’re a part of everyday business.
Web services have been promoted as the future of… well, pretty much everything, based upon the deluge of information accessible via the Internet, vendor marketing, and so on.
Standards have been proposed, adopted, played around with, implemented, and argued over. A few trailblazing firms have started utilizing basic elements of web services to provide either access to various bits of data or ‘mini services’. A few more are using web service standards to facilitate faster and simplified integration strategies.
Fast-forward a few years, and (according to some) web services will underpin everything from highly functionally B2C sites, partner / customer communications, to enterprise IT applications.
Setting the standards
There are several groups of vendors in this space. Some have stuck their necks out and are promoting products that are on or ahead of the adoption curve. Others, refreshingly, are adopting a wait and see strategy.
It’s no secret that Microsoft and IBM have been centrally involved in WS standards development work. Both have a lot to gain, but both could also play a major role in convincing the world that settling on basic standards for interoperability is the best way to progress.
At the same time, questions are being raised about mixing elements of proprietary technologies with open standards – does it defeat the point? There will always be either suspicion or accusations of any major vendor’s ‘hidden agenda’ at the early stages of a technology shift. And so there should be: after all, basic protectionism is the most fundamental of business strategies.
The exact shape of the future is not yet written, and there is a lot of development, teaching, and understanding needed to fill the gap between today and the future of five years ahead. But the ball is certainly rolling.
Web services offer a ‘leg-up’ for the faster, and successful realization of the collaborative vision: real-time, seamless connectivity within and across firewalls.
Integrating different IT systems is one of the major limiting factors slowing the proliferation of ‘c’ (collaborative) commerce. Even application integration vendors have found it difficult to convince the world that their solutions make light of such a complex arena.
In the shorter term, such vendors may be able to offer a ‘middle way’ through a ‘loose integration strategy’ made possible through adherence to the emerging WS standards. This makes sense in terms of cost, but may not be applicable to all types of integration headache.
Extend the integration scenario outside the enterprise, and it becomes quickly apparent that a ‘loosely coupled’ network of partners, customers and suppliers could make fast gains at a data and process integration level using WS standards.
The point here is that WS does actually offer benefits, once the user base gets its head around exactly where the incremental value lies. But this point is perhaps the hardest hurdle to overcome.
…shrouded by a fog of hype
Starting from a blank price of paper opens up almost infinite possibilities as to the application of such technology. But while this promotes a proliferation of positive ideas, it also creates a lot of misunderstanding, assumption and confusion when sorting the facts from negative perceptions.
All new technologies have their detractors. In this particular case, the loudest complaints seem to be about the myriad of messages and marketing promotions that are (as usual) clouding the average user’s mind as to how, exactly, web services can benefit their company.
The web services arena is the latest in a long line of technology development areas in which a huge number of technology vendors are trying to convince users that they have ‘the answer’. This makes the whole sector highly interesting to learn and write about.
Hundreds of different vendors, all approaching the same task from different angles, bring a generous amount of confusion in the marketplace. For every claim, there’s a counter claim; for every promise of ‘openness’, there are accusations of proprietary elements. We sell web services is a recent claim. It’s wrong: web services are either created using appropriate tools, or consumed.
The future will bring a proliferation of new types of service provider – vendors that can grant access using web services architecture to specific functionality that enriches a client’s applications. More likely in the short term are solutions that give access to individuals that need a specific task completed or a range of compound, related services. But for now, don’t believe the hype.
Proving its worth?
It’s probably fair to say that the majority of the user population is at least intrigued at the potential of web services. But, given that for most users the arena is the equivalent of a blank piece of paper, vendors will need to be able to demonstrate their ability to prove web services’ worthiness.
If vendors approach the market with a pragmatic view, and aim to build users’ understanding of how web services can impact the enterprise now (as opposed to in five years time), they will quickly reap the rewards – as long as their particular offering makes lighter work of existing problems (especially integration), and can demonstrate added value to the user.
Crowing about the future potential of exposing various bits of functionality to a network of users is not enough. It is in process modeling, design and execution that the true potential of combining such exposed functionality into something useful will be demonstrated.
As with most ‘new’ technologies, web services will have a ‘hype’ shelf life of two years: if it doesn’t start to deliver anything practical within this time it is unlikely the technology will last long. Real problems, such as integration, are fast becoming the low hanging fruit for the majority of vendors in this space.
The exciting thing is that while addressing these issues, enterprises are at the same time readying themselves for the near term future. They will be able to take further steps towards leveraging their familiarity of web services standards. Eventually – and gradually – they may make the vision of publishing and consuming useful web services a reality.