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What are web services and how to use them in your business?
A primer on web services for the business leader

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As a business leader, there is no way you can close your eyes and ears to a discussion about web services.  However, like many other emerging technologies, the definition of web services keeps evolving and providers of web services still have a lot of flexibility in defining what web services are.  As a management consultant, however, I wanted to understand what web services are from the perspective of a non-technology person and what kind of role can they play for a business, and what should a business leader look for before implementing them.  

As a part of my research efforts, I did some serious background research and attended a panel discussion on web services moderated by Chris Greendale, General Partner at Kodiak Venture Partners.  Other panel members included Kevin Bedell, Editor-in-Chief of LinuxWorld, Bob Kothari, Vice President & General Manger (East) at ICG Commerce, and Jim Moskun, Founder of Mindreef.  

What are web services?

A web service is a way to provide a business functionality over the Internet using a protocol that makes it portable, interoperable, and not tied to any one vendor.  This is the reason why it is so useful and is creating so much buzz.  Right now web services are used primarily as a means for businesses to communicate with its partners without intimate knowledge of each other's IT systems.  A lot of IT problems happen because two different computer systems (sometimes within the same firm) just can not talk to each other.  Web services make that possible since they share business logic, data, and processes through a programmatic interface across a network.  Web services allow different applications from different sources to communicate with each other without time-consuming custom coding.  That is why web services are sometimes also called application services because they are so application oriented. 

Why should you be thinking about web services in your business?

Primarily for two reasons (1) better communication with your business partners which has a direct correlation on cost of doing business (2) no need to invest in technology/infrastructure changes so that you could simply communicate with your partner.  Since web services are still evolving, early indicators are that major uses in the early stages will be in integrating disparate web based applications, services, and devices with back-end systems.  This type of integration will enable your IT department to make your IT system less complex, leverage existing IT infrastructure, and by being able to talk to a variety of hitherto incompatible system, produce tremendous efficiencies.

The other important reason for developing an action plan for incorporating web services in your organization is the competitive advantage that you will derive.  After years of commoditization of software and incapability of IT to provide any meaningful competitive advantage, we now have a technology that can truly put you ahead of your competitors if you embrace it ahead of them.  You will be able to go to market faster with web services because there are less technical challenges to deal with and you are no longer limited by what your IT infrastructure was capable of.  You can simply buy/share what you don't have with other businesses, and thus, reduce the time to market.  (Example:  If you want to sell luxury cars in Japan but do not have the data on dealers and consumers, you don't have to worry about incorporating all that data in your IT system first.  Using web services you can simply connect it to the systems of those companies that have them in literally no time).

How to implement web services in your business?

  • If you have multiple locations and/or disparate IT systems, you must consider web services as a way to make your communication more efficient.
  • If you engage in B2B commerce with your partners, you must consider web services and also impress upon your partners to do the same.  The savings are likely to be tremendous.
  • If you do not have access to certain databases and resources, think hard about how you can secure them from other providers and then use web services to use them to go to market faster.

Related articles:  Future of internet and e-business     Web services can now be sold/bought online    Online business rules

ecommerce potential in the packaging sector     How to exploit the Internet for growth

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