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Web services growing pains: Teaching Johnny to walk

As Hurwitz Group analysts give Web services another check up, they come armed not just with the insight gathered from tracking the evolution of the technology, but also with a solid foundation of fresh data collected from more than 300 buyers and suppliers.

Web services growing pains: Teaching Johnny to walk

As Hurwitz Group analysts round up to give Web services another check up, we come armed not just with the insight gathered from tracking the evolution of the technology, but also with a solid foundation of fresh data collected from more than 300 buyers and suppliers.

Web services has captured the attention of just about everybody who has any connection to IT. More importantly, users have actually moved into early experimentation and adoption. Results from a recent Web services study point to a number of key trends:

Firms are launching Web services implementations inside the enterprise. Almost half of the enterprises from the study are targeting their initial Web services projects on the integration of internal applications and data, while less than a quarter are connecting with external suppliers, customers, and partners.

Developer training is lagging at most firms. More than one-third of companies have no plans to train employees for Web services development, and less than 20% offer training today.

Firms are split on the component model of choice. Half of all enterprises say that Microsoft .NET is the most likely deployment environment for Web services, followed by Java players IBM, Oracle, and BEA.

Enterprises are willing to scope out new, best-of-breed vendors that provide a strong set of tools. Two-thirds of all companies will use some combination of lead vendors and best-of-breed technology providers to assemble their Web services solution. In contrast, less than a fifth will use a turnkey solution from a single vendor.

THE HURWITZ TAKE: Web services has reached a critical early milestone. XML Web Service tools are shipping and, thanks to some clever introductory pricing strategies, at a price point that managers can afford. At the same time, developers are increasingly aware of SOAP, UDDI, and WSDL and want to extend their skill sets to build Web service interfaces. This combination of accessible tools and developer enthusiasm will drive the adoption of Web services through 2003 and raise the level of discussion from what Web services is to what Web services can do.

Early rounds of discussion are focused on solving the internal integration problem ? where technical hiccups don't become media events like Nike's high profile supply chain snafu last year. Inside the firewall, firms are still plagued by inefficient manual process, ineffective or nonexistent data coordination, and an inability to automate even basic tasks. Web services can help solve some of the integration complexity, but it's no panacea. Integration is a multidimensional problem that demands various techniques and technologies. Web services can help developers build low-cost, system-to-system connections, but simply adding a SOAP wrapper and SOAP listener to existing applications will only send us back to the days of high maintenance, point-to-point integration. ISVs approaching the Web services market from an integration standpoint must address the bigger issues of process and component integration, Web services management issues like provisioning, and life-cycle management issues like testing and quality assurance.

The major challenge still resides at the application level ? specifically with packaged applications. It's one thing to support Web services at the interface level, it's entirely different to drive revenue through Web services components. If business users still want integrated business functionality delivered over the Web, then Web services only means something to the IT personnel that must integrate several native web applications or business functions. How will giant, horizontal applications fit into the service-oriented architectures that software infrastructure providers are helping their customers build? While it is obviously too soon to tell the final outcome, application vendors cannot avoid the oncoming train for long. Web Services technologies will make outsourcing like customer relationship management a lot easier. Large ISVs like Siebel will see revenue siphoned off to application service providers like ? especially if a sales manager who wants 90% of the functionality at a tenth of the cost can integrate the outsourced app with the back-end CRM app using a simple SOAP interface.

What we need with Web services is more maturity ? maturation of the technology and its supporting standards and maturation of usage beyond simple point-to-point application integration. Standards bodies are leading the charge on core standards like WS-I that should address the critical issues of interoperability and security. But Microsoft and IBM will never agree on a single workflow standard, because that's one area where competitive differentiation reigns. Johnny has mastered the crawl and is in the process of standing up. Now we need him to take that next big step ? walking.

Copyright 2002 Hurwitz Group Inc. This article is excerpted from TrendWatch, a weekly publication of Hurwitz Group Inc. - an analyst, research, and consulting firm. To register for a free email subscription, click here.

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