Study: Web Services Gaining Steam

A new survey finds that Web services adoption will accelerate in 2003, with many companies predicting the technology will be a significant part of their overall IT infrastructures within 12 months.
Web services technology is coming into its own within the enterprise, according to a new survey prepared jointly by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) and Systinet (a provider of Web services infrastructure software), with the promise of accelerating adoption in 2003.

Even so, and perhaps surprisingly in light of the hype which has followed Web services since the concept was first broadcast, the survey found no real consensus on whether Web services is a disruptive technology (one which significantly changes the way people and systems operate). About 45 percent of the respondents said it is not, while nearly 30 percent felt it is.

"Many consider it complementary to existing technologies," Ian Bruce, director of marketing at Systinet, told Tuesday.

Still, the great majority (74 percent) said Web services can deliver business value today, primarily by "easing the pain and expense associated with application integration."

That message comes into focus when considering that respondents said their companies requirements for adopting Web services are information/knowledge (about 90 percent), a technology strategy (more than 80 percent), a strong business case (about 80 percent), and skilled staff (nearly 80 percent). Fewer said technology partners to manage or deploy the technology or consulting advice were requirements. But despite the need for demonstrating a strong business case for adoption, 79 percent of the survey's respondents said their companies will use Web services in the coming year. Breaking that down even further, 50 percent said Web services would be a significant part of their overall IT infrastructures within 12 months. More than 77 percent said they believe Web services is important to their organization's future.

Additionally, the survey found that companies are not taking a "wait-and-see" approach to the technology. Just about 30 percent claimed their companies already have live deployments of Web services -- more than the preparers anticipated. More than 40 percent claimed pilot deployments, about 60 percent said their companies were experimenting with Web services and nearly 70 percent said their companies were or had investigated the technology.

Most of those currently working with Web services said they are spending their time SOAP-enabling existing applications (just over 30 percent), integrating existing internal applications (more than 25 percent) and creating new Web services applications (about 25 percent).

But that picture changes in one year, with firms taking on a much more diverse and sophisticated range of projects that move away from simple point-to-point integration projects in favor of critical, outside-the-firewall applications. Respondents said they will be using Web services to connect to third party services (about 25 percent), integrate existing internal applications (just less than 25 percent), achieve business-to-business integration (just over 25 percent), create new Web services applications (just less than 25 percent), create a network of Web services (about 25 percent), create and coordinate public Web services (just less than 25 percent), and create new service architectures (just less than 25 percent).

"The popular perception is that everything is going to happen inside the firewall," Bruce said, noting that the survey's results gave the lie to that notion. "It shows a level of confidence in the technology."

The current major focus for Web services products are development tools and runtime environments, but that picture also changes within 12 months. The survey found companies will begin to spend less time on those products and spend more time working on security frameworks, UDDI registries, performance monitoring and management/orchestration.

"There's a lot of speculation: is Web services going to be used for anything critical in the foreseeable future?" Bruce said. "The answer is clearly yes."

He added, "A much more sophisticated pattern in the use of Web services will appear."

Getting down to basics, the survey found that companies are getting the message about what Web services are on a technical level, with 62.8 percent of respondents correctly identifying Web services as "network-based software applications developed to interact with other applications using Internet standard technologies and connections to seamlessly perform business processes." Additionally, the report found that only in the end-user firms did a significant number of respondents (11.6 percent) conflate Web services with "software as a service."

Still, respondents were less clear about how they could best use Web services to benefit their businesses.

"People know what Web services are, but they don't know what it can do," Bruce said.

Not surprisingly, respondents identified security as the top risk of the technology. But they also rated manageability and reliability nearly as highly. Other major concerns included scalability, platform independence, interoperability, immature technology and immature standards. When it came to the business risks associated with Web services, incomplete standards and a lack of clear business benefits topped the list.

But the respondents also had plenty of good things to say about the benefits of the technology. More than 90 percent cited flexible integration and the reuse of IT assets as benefits. Just less than 90 percent identified business process automation, allowing IT to keep pace with business and extending the life of legacy applications as benefits. As for business benefits of the technology, reducing costs and time to market topped the list with nearly 50 percent each. More than 40 percent cited making their businesses more efficient and increasing revenues.

"They're equally vehement about the benefits as they are about the risks," Bruce said.

The survey compiled 790 usable responses solicited through Systinet contacts, SIIA members and prospects, and the ComputerWorld magazine Web site. Bruce said respondents came from about 700 individual organizations and were more or less evenly split between companies with more than 500 employees and companies with less than 500 employees. About 85 percent of the companies represented were based in the U.S.

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