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									Computing News May 26, 2005 []

Computing May 26, 2005 Data Business; Web Services Builds a Case for Usability and Reliability Web services promised to revolutionise online systems and services, but they failed to live up to the hype. Jason Compton looks at what the technology can really do for business. WEB services, the practical application of the extensible markup language (XML) internet protocol, was hailed as the technology that would change the face of the software industry. It did not live up to that grand claim, but is now taking hold as a low-cost and highly effective method to link disparate IT resources to perform more complex tasks, and to become accessible via the web. Of course, large-scale enterprise application integration existed well before the arrival of web services. At first, many expected it to drive established integration providers, such as Tibco and BEA, out of business. Suffice to say it did not. IT providers have not taken the arrival of web services lying down, and together with other technology heavyweights have wasted little time in shaping the development of web services and reworking their own products to capitalise on the greater interest in system integration. 'What SQL standardisation did to the database world, web services will do to Tibco and the integration world,' says Aiaz Kazi, general manager of the business integration division of Tibco. 'And it means we are seeing a resurgence of people recognising the value of an integrated, service-oriented architecture.' Requirements and uses According to research firm Radicati Group, just over half of all web services deployments in 2004 took place in North America, and 39 per cent in Europe. Adoption has been modest, owing in part to the spending slowdown of recent years, and in part to a slowly emerging understanding of the different development requirements, which involve building IP-based connectors between systems that may or may not already be web-enabled. 'If an organisation has its own developers and is up to speed on technology, it can be up to speed in a matter of weeks or days,' says Iain Pickering, product director at web services integrator NDL. Curiously, one of IT's newest tools is being used to extend the life of some of its oldest mainframes. 'The strongest usage of web services is in legacy modernisation,' says Jonathan Airey, vice president of Software AG's integration business. 'Legacy systems are still running the world. Some 75 to 80 per cent of all business transactions pass through legacy Cobol systems, but they have sometimes become unmanageable,' says Julian Dobbins, senior market development manager at services firm Micro Focus. The company develops web services connectors to prolong the life of back-end mainframe systems by enabling a modern front-end to interface with the often perfectly good payment, fulfilment, and inventory management systems of yesteryear.


Computing News May 26, 2005 []

In the rush to the web a decade ago, many companies were forced to rely on rekeying data in green screen terminals when an order needed to reach legacy back-end systems. This 'lever and extend' approach works well for companies that will not or cannot break ties with their old systems through full reprogramming. The advantages of web services are not limited to ageing back-end systems. Because of their modular and reusable nature, they are gaining support in settings where a large number of disparate systems are called upon to provide a single product, service, or report. A banking client of Software AG employed a web services approach internally to enable the creation of financial derivative investment products, which requires building links between commodity pricing information on multiple systems. The reusable components cut the time to define a derivative from months to just two weeks. Two separate companies looking to tie together mainframe systems have traditionally turned to electronic data interchange (EDI). 'With the EDI approach, you get a specific, dedicated link between organisations, but you're bound to the technologies you link and pay a middleman to deliver your data,' says Finbarr Joy, solutions director at integrator UPCO. However, in the EDI world, that third-party exchange provider contractually guarantees connectivity. In the direct web services model, the two linking companies must guarantee service levels directly, which creates a wrinkle for IT designers. 'The scales have tipped in favour of web services, even though there are still some doubts about the technology,' says Joy. 'There has to be an assessment of whether the organisation is ready, if it can guarantee the behaviour of distributed transactions.' Further applications The use of web services does not mean that the ultimate goal is to create a web page. They may be used behind the scenes to link two processes or to share data between systems, using the same practices and technology as modern web programming. Some firms look to improve their own internal integration via web services as a way to improve customer retention. 'Three years ago, we decided to transform our supply chain, and we wanted to use IT to deliver value-added services to our customers, and make our business processes so intertwined with theirs that it would make the cost of switching suppliers higher,' says Paul Martin, group director of information management for consumer packaging manufacturer Rexam. The company pondered the use of direct links to customer SAP deployments, but there was insufficient interest. 'The majority of our customers said they were at a stage with their SAP program when they weren't comfortable with SAP-to-SAP linkage,' says Martin. Instead, Rexam decided to present a no-cost, fully-integrated web interface to clients, deploying SAP's Portals product to achieve a web services-powered linkage of ordering, fulfilment, invoicing, and payments process through a common interface. By streamlining its processes, Rexam eliminated a significant amount of paperwork and rekeying, leading to a one-third reduction in call centre staffing.


Computing News May 26, 2005 []

'We now have 85 per cent of our orders online, up from zero, and even the invoicing and fulfilment is electronic,' says Martin. The online processes, presented through the common ordering interface, have taken Rexam from below 90 per cent billing compliance to 99.7 per cent. Bookmaker William Hill adopted a web services architecture to roll out a wider range of betting products in a shorter time frame. 'There's an awful lot of business on its radar, but historically it was difficult to take advantage of its affiliations and partnerships. Web services made them more cost-effective,' says UPCO's Joy, who worked on the implementation. 'With our current legacy infrastructure, it's just one great big application - one amorphous lump,' says Victor Kemeny, group IS director at William Hill. 'But we saw that there are an awful lot of web services components out in the marketplace and knew we should be encapsulating them.' Over the next 24 to 36 months, William Hill will perform a complete migration of its back-end systems to a web services architecture. In the short term this will allow the company to offer more elaborate football bets; in the long term it is expected to at least halve the time to market for any new product, with a reduction in costs largely owing to the potential to reuse the internal linkages that web services create. 'If we can achieve some of those metrics, we would have a significant advantage in the marketplace,' says Kemeny. Some web services platforms are cleverly disguised as enterprise applications. Both NetSuite and, rivals in the market for front-end sales and marketing operations, are expanding the scope of their offerings through a web services infrastructure (named NetFlex by NetSuite, sforce by that allows the hosted service to tie in with dozens of other IT systems and services. has already rolled out a fully integrated virtual call centre application using its base product and the web services layer, with its own front-end and customer management database as the master operations system. In essence, web services are turning simple personal information managers and small-business accounting packages into potentially viable platforms for all phases of a company's operation. A hazard for firms considering web services is the risk incurred in opening more back-end functionality to the world outside the network. 'You're inviting people into your core, financial infrastructure, so you have to make sure your system is secure,' says Lannon Rowan, principal security consultant at Trend Network Services. As web traffic is accepted rather than blocked at the firewall, companies that allow a wider variety of transactions via web channels need to be aware of the higher risk, as web services can potentially make it easier for an intruder to reach a crucial system through web services integration. Aside from implementing strong authentication requirements on each component, IT can minimise risk by employing traffic analysers that treat web services-enabled data requests with greater scrutiny than a simple web page request. Firewalls that do nothing but monitor XML traffic are also becoming available from firms such as Forum Systems and Sarvega. Rowan says: 'You can craft a web services packet that would cause denial of service; but a lot of it is still theoretical because most web services implementations seem to be internal', and are therefore far less subject to widespread assault.


Computing News May 26, 2005 []

BA CUTS PROJECT TIME AND COST WEB services played a key role in British Airways' drive to eliminate GBP 100m of operational cost. BA began its web services project in 1999, when the technology was still in its infancy. 'Like anybody in the late 1990s, we put in a web site as a selling engine,' says Mike Croucher, BA's head of IT delivery. As BA added functionality to its BEA WebLogic-powered system, it became increasingly obvious that the company was, in effect, building a new, centralised operational system. 'Previously, this system was used for services, but increasingly it's for any business function associated with the customer,' says Peter Roberts, ebusiness technical architect. However, that functionality was initially tied directly to the web site itself, with no clear way to expose the functionality to the rest of the business. 'We had close coupling between the two environments (the back-end operations and the front-end display), and as the size of the application increased, we wanted to be able to evolve different parts at different paces.' BA implemented a web services layer which has broken apart the direct linkages between the back-end server and the site display. 'The same information on the web site can be rendered in a different way for call centre use, with no change in business logic,' says Roberts. The company also uses web services to link in functionality from other providers as a seamless part of its presentation, such as its outsourced Ask BA service. It can integrate a number of third party retail services into its web site, including the ability to book hotels and car hire. 'Even though we put it together in 1999, the technology and the platform we were on allowed us to re-use a substantial part of the infrastructure the way we had coded it,' says Croucher. Web services allowed BA to make more changes to its IT infrastructure more rapidly than would have been possible with conventional techniques. 'We had a pipeline of 15 projects at maximum going in one year, but we needed to expand that to at least 30, and componentisation was the only way,' says Croucher. 'By taking cost out, and changing the way people interact with BA, we moved to a cost benefit and hit our target.'


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