What are web services and how
to use them in your business?
A primer on web services for the business
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
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
- 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
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ecommerce potential in the packaging sector
How to exploit the Internet for growth
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