Proceed With Caution When Embracing Web Services

By David Aponovich

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Corporate IT leaders should prepare to hear a lot more about Web services in 2002. The emerging technology that links internal and external business processes promises to be on the lips of IT execs and vendors as its value to the enterprise becomes more widely understood and practical uses are implemented.

Under Web services architecture, software applications are designed to be used by other software by linking together between or inside enterprises. Major vendors are rallying to support it, including Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Sun and others.

But before getting drawn in by the hype, one tech research firm is warning IT execs to be careful as they move forward with implementing Web services in their companies.

"Web services technologies can save millions in integration costs today, but companies must proceed cautiously," said Simon Yates, senior analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., and author of a new report, "The Web Services Payoff."

Yates says that despite the rapid emergence of Web services, "executives must be mindful of technology barriers, such as vendors who can't yet articulate clear business values as they put a Web services veneer on existing products and the lack of security standards."

That said, Forrester advocates that IT organizations embrace the immediate benefits of Web services. The research firm says Web services are clearly poised to drive productivity gains, making it easier for companies to collaborate internally and with business partners, through the interconnection of software systems regardless of what platform they're running on.

Forrester offers food for thought for IT execs preparing to dive into Web services, including:

Few users are "on the same wavelength as their IT suppliers" when it comes to Web services, Forrester says. Integration is a top priority both for vendors and for IT execs, but of the business execs Forrester recently interviewed, most were "unaware of or hesitant about Web services. Despite the common integration interest, most firms don't see how the technologies can help in today's market conditions."

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Although Web services technology lets companies interconnect software systems more quickly and cheaply, streamlining business collaboration, Web services "won't bring flexibility to 30 years of proprietary systems overnight." Forrester says executives should take a practical approach and choose activities that promote visibility, like inventory alerts, and lay the foundation for more complex collaboration as technology barriers fall.

"In the past year, new specifications have emerged to standardize basic Web services that open up broad growth and cost-cutting opportunities," said Frank E. Gillett, senior analyst at Forrester and author of a Forrester report, "Start Using Web Services Now." "Companies should exploit these standards now to build simple links between internal apps and their business partners."

Web services are being widely touted by vendors as the "new solution" for enterprise application integration. But, says Forrester, until 2004 when the performance of Web services improves and standards for security, auditing and transactions stabilize, "traditional EAI technologies will prevail."

Forrester is looking toward 2006 as the year when standards will have sufficiently matured enough to give execs the confidence to apply Web services technologies to complex, transactional business processes and to relationships with "qualified but previously unknown parties."