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A recent report by Boston-based IT research and consulting firm Delphi Group, "Web Services and Business Process Management," identifies five major hurdles as perceived by IT executives. While none is insurmountable, each represents potential delays to implementation or barriers to getting maximum return on a Web services investment.
According to the report, the major challenges facing Web services projects, and the percentage of IT execs who cite each one as their primary concern, include:
- 1. Inexperience in architecting Web services (19.4%);
- 2. Changing internal organizational culture to embrace Web services (18.5%);
- 3. Multiple standards for implementation (also 18.5%);
- 4. No perceived business case for Web services (14.6); and
- 5. The difficulty of managing relationships with other organizations (6.8%).
Larry Hawes, senior advisor for Delphi Group and the author of the report, boils Web services down even further: "It's taking what you have and changing the way the pieces interact with each other," he says.
This relates to the number-one challenge in the minds of IT executives: Many in-house IT staffs are inexperienced in architecting Web services. "There's a pretty good supply of Java developers these days, but what there isn't is J2EE architects," he says. The positive news is that there are vendors coming to the rescue to provide architectural frameworks used by application developers to build Web services. Hawes says, "When a vendor like that exists, you know it's a real problem." Among those offering help, Sun Microsystems is offering J2EE Blueprints, frameworks for developing applications to address specific functionality in Web services.
Second on IT execs' minds is the challenge of convincing users across the enterprise of the benefit of Web services. CIOs and other top-level technology pros are already convinced: 80% of those who responded to Delphi Group's survey said they consider Web services to be "important to imperative" to their business strategy.
The report notes that it's easier to build a new technology than it is to get people to use it. This is especially true with a technology like Web services, which is all about collaboration and sharing information to reach a business goal. Many corporate cultures are "still attuned to hoarding and protecting information and business processes, especially when dealing with other organizations," according to the report. To overcome this hurdle, Delphi says IT executives must work to establish a collaborative mindset and explain the business benefits of Web services if they are to gain maximum effectiveness and cooperation.
Third on the list of hurdles are the multiple standards for Web services implementations. This point plays into the general confusion when it comes to the many definitions of the technology, in addition to the jumble of acronyms surrounding it, such as XML, SOAP, UDDI, WSDL. Each represents a specific technology standard that enables applications to communicate with other applications.
Delphi Group's report notes that with Web services, "standards" have yet to be perfectly defined. The result: At this stage with Web services, there is a lack of best-practices, leaving a developer of Web services with many choices. The bottom line here, according to Delphi Group: "Early adopters of Web services will learn how to architect them by traveling the hard path of trial and error."
Fourth, IT execs are worried about presenting a perceived business case when it comes to pushing a Web services agenda. The good news: The cost of implementing the technology isn't nearly as significant as other IT projects.
"Web services, related to other technology implementations, is actually fairly inexpensive, you're not talking implementing a whole lot of new hardware. The value proposition is extending what you have already," says Hawes. "What it's going to take is coding SOAP interfaces to existing applications and making sure content is in XML. It's not like bringing in a big ERP system or supply chain management system."
According to Delphi Group's survey, companies are not expecting to spend heavily on Web services. When asked how much their organization expects to spend on Web services projects in the next three years, the largest group of respondents (23%) say less than $100,000, while 18% said less than $250,000. Of course, spending plans can vary widely depending on a company's size and revenues, but the trend shows that Web services won't gobble up giant pieces of IT budgets.
Finally, the fifth hurdle to implementing Web services is managing relationships with other organizations. Similar to the bigger concern (of changing internal mindsets to embrace Web services), embracing new relationships with outside partners is key to benefiting from Web services.
Time is right for Web services
Hawes says a major reason Web services have moved to the front burner in many IT organizations is the current economic climate - the technology is seen as one answer to the challenge of extracting more business value out of prior IT investments.
He offers a typical implementation example: One process manufacturer is linking a number of its machines that make up a manufacturing line. A lot of this equipment does not communicate with the other equipment on the line. But by using SOAP interfaces and XML data schemes, the different manufacturing pieces can communicate relevant data with the other such as run-time data and quality and quantity metrics.
Hawes adds: "Take that one step further: If the manufacturer wants to, they could make that available to their supply chain partners to help them make decisions" regarding deliveries of materials and parts, producing a more efficient supply chain.
Another factor driving widespread adoption of Web services is that the standards and education of the marketplace is being heavily pushed by major technology vendors including Microsoft, IBM, BEA, Sun Microsystems and others. Web services are not following a traditional path of new technology, where early advocates are often upstart vendors who test the waters before the giants enter the market. Delphi Group points to the fact that major vendors are leading the push for Web services is a sign of its early acceptance - and a sign that it will be rapidly adopted by corporations.
Hawes says that, compared to other emerging technologies that typically follow a cycle that begins with early adopters before migrating to widespread adoption, "that cycle is happening with Web services faster than any technology I've seen to date."