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Web services – A brave new world

By Johann Swanepoel

Depending on whom you talk to, Web services are either the most important technology since the Web, or merely a minor improvement in enterprise application integration. But despite the varying opinions, no technology has ever been so hyped – and trashed – before it has been widely deployed.

To me, Web Services is introducing the next wave of computing, and I expect it to revolutionise the way web applications are perceived. But despite my opinion or what others may believe, whether you’re a corporate enterprise, a small business, or an end-user, you’re going to encounter Web services sooner or later.

It will probably be a big opportunity. It will probably cost you money. It will probably change the nature of computing. In any case, Web services are worth a closer look.

The scenario…

The concept of Web Services is simple – to provide a component or service that can be accessed over the Internet from anywhere in the world.

A simple example is Microsoft Passport, a Web Service that handles the storing and retrieving of information. A user only enters his or her information once and has access to an entire host of applications and websites. All their personal information is stored and maintained in one central location, which is accessible from across the world.

But it does not end there. Let’s say you are on holiday in another country (a novel idea, I know). You have an accident and end up in ER – where they speak very little, or no English at all – with a broken arm. Instead of filling out piles of forms, you grant the hospital access to your personal information, which is pulled into their application.

Suddenly they have all your personal details, your medical history, your medical aid details, and is able to settle your claim automatically. All this happens using Web Services made available by your medical aid company.

In the same way you can make your business processes available as Web Services, allowing all your operations across the world to share these processes. Even your clients can have access and interact with these processes via the Internet.

Many things to many people

Web services can provide data transfers between otherwise incompatible computer systems. Web services can also provide programming modules written in different languages and residing on incompatible systems. Web services can even be combined to make up larger applications. So, a developer has the ability to put together an entire, fully functional application by linking together already existing Web Services.

In addition, Web Services delivers XML based dynamic interactions using the same web delivery platform as web applications. Built on a combination of standards, web services can be used to fuel dynamic B2B engines and deliver web content.

So, simply stated, Web Services promises to allow companies to exchange their data and business capabilities using Internet technologies. Custom code lets two or more Web-based applications talk to each other, making it possible to integrate and reuse existing software.

Web Services will even allow companies to purchase IT systems as services provided over the Internet, rather than owning and maintaining all their own hardware and software.

So, there are plenty of opportunities to try to use Web Services. And some areas in which Web services are expected to play a major role include moving data between incompatible systems, distributing and updating applications, selling portions of applications, hosting applications, integrating existing applications, and enabling massively parallel computing.

The only thing that is up to you is to match these opportunities to your business objectives to ensure a successful, long-term Web Services implementation.

Ultimately, the big deal about Web services is threefold: The technology doesn’t require the best and brightest to implement, so normal programmers can make the services work. The Internet functions on a scale never achieved by any other network before, thus providing a hugely successful common network. And the standards involved with Web services have, so far, been accepted more widely than any previous standards.

Sound like science fiction? It’s not. The exciting part is that the technology to make all things possible already exist, we just have to put it to use. A simple concept, a staggering impact!

Johann Swanepoel is Technical Director at Amorphous New Media, a digital design agency. Visit their web site at http://www.amorphous.net or phone Johann on (011) 380-6500

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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