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Microsoft: Web Services is About Business Agility

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NEW YORK — With Web services beginning to gain
acceptance in the business world, Microsoft
came to InternetWorld Fall 2002 Tuesday
to refine its message: beyond just integration, Web
services are about providing “business agility.”

Success in business is often a matter of flexibility,
of being able to respond to shifting market demands
rapidly and capitalize on opportunities. But while IT
is often seen as a solution to the need for
flexibility, the cost of updating IT infrastructure to
pounce on changing trends can be prohibitive.

“Historically, IT has been run as a cost center,”
Charles Fitzgerald, general manager of Platform
Strategies at Microsoft, told the assembled crowd
Tuesday morning. But the possibilities engendered by
XML Web services can change that, Fitzgerald said, by
allowing organizations to rethink IT priorities.

Enabling business agility is a matter of connecting
with customers and partners, empowering employees,
streamlining business processes and optimizing IT
economics, Fitzgerald said. XML Web services touch
upon each of those areas by providing an Internet
native mechanism that allows different systems to
communicate with each other.

Fitzgerald was armed with a handful of examples,
including Pitney Bowes, which has used Web services to
integrate package pricing across shippers, or
Scotiabank, which does business with many automobile
dealers and used Web services to provide those dealers
access to legacy systems. Other examples include Vail
Resorts, which used the technology to integrate six
different CRM systems, and The University of Texas MD
Anderson Cancer Center, which integrated its patient
information systems with a $200,000 investment that is
estimated to save it $30 million over eight years.

“We really think the marketplace has validated Web
services both from a technology perspective and a
business perspective,” Fitzgerald said.

But Fitzgerald noted that the revolution may be
waiting in Web services ability to deal with business

“Businesses tend to think in terms of the business
process,” he said. However, historically, businesses
have been forced to change their businesses processes
in order to conform to the needs of their technology.
With Web services, Fitzgerald said, the opportunity
now exists to create technology that serves business

Part of the answer to doing that rests with Business
Process Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL4WS),
developed jointly by Microsoft, IBM and BEA Systems
and released in July.

“It allows you to describe business processes
independent of the underlying system,” Fitzgerald

BPEL4WS defines a model and a grammar for describing
the behavior of a business process based on
interactions between the process and its partners.

Beyond that, Fitzgerald said Web services is also
about giving organizations the ability to “unlock
information and get it out to the people that make

As an example of how Microsoft itself is using its
.NET Web services strategy to do just that, and
provide organizations with “business agility,”
Fitzgerald pointed to Microsoft Office XP, which he
described as a “socket for plugging into Web

Office XP features analysis and collaboration tools
that turn users into consumers of Web services. For
instance, Excel features a new “My Data” menu which
allows users to pull spreadsheet data through Web
services. On the other end, developers can create
defined roles to various sets of users, allowing them
to tailor the way end users access information to the
needs of the specific roles.

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