By Ken Hardin
With Jason Bloomberg and Ron Schmelzer, senior analysts and partners with ZapThink, LLC, a consultancy specializing in Web services deployment and service-based architecture.
This interview originally appeared in the IT Business Edge weekly report on Maximizing IT Investments. To see a complete listing of IT Business Edge weekly reports or to sign up for this free technology intelligence agent, visit www.itbusinessedge.com.
Question: Are the most successful Web services projects, in terms of quick turn-around on ROI, tending to be between partners and customers, or for simplifying systems integration?
Bloomberg: The primary use of Web services at this point is actually internal to the enterprise, far more so than to conduct business-to-business integration.
Schmelzer: A lot of the problems that traditional EAI solutions have been trying to solve, those are the kinds of problems people are looking to solve with an architectural approach rather than using proprietary solutions to solve general integration issues. And that's a very large market, probably larger than the business-to-business integration market.
Question: I'd assume that most of these internal projects tend to pay for themselves exclusively in cost-savings?
Bloomberg: That's definitely where a lot of companies get started with Web services, on an internal cost-savings project. A lot of these are what we call grass roots...where they may be off the radar of the IT executive management. But, typically, on the project level, some development team will realize that they can solve an integration problem using Web services and often report substantial cost-savings, partly because they don't have to use expensive proprietary software...and partly because it's just not as hard to integrate using Web services. It's hard to find a big company that doesn't use Web services somewhere. So, clearly, there's a solid ROI for doing that, because these IT resources are already in-house, and they can save money on projects that are currently under way.
Schmelzer: There are a couple of major drivers for integration behind the firewall in general. Part of it is that companies are trying to (get) more use from existing systems. You'll find that a lot of companies are using Web services to extend legacy applications, such as mainframes, or you could think of legacy as CRM or ERP. The idea is to make these systems do more, such as talk to portals, integrate with each other to accomplish some specific business task, or integrate with a variety of new e-commerce or e-business initiatives. The other driver that we are seeing for integration is to allow companies to make more informed decisions about the various aspects of their business-business activity monitoring or the ideas brought forth around the real-time enterprise or on-demand or any of these big notions. Really, the only way that these ideas can work is if the applications that are participating in a network are able to be interacted with and communicated with. That's where you begin to look at services-oriented architecture as a way of organizing IT infrastructure.
Question: Back to the grass-roots projects you mentioned earlier—do these tend to get launched within a single business unit, or do they tend to span business groups within the enterprise?
Bloomberg: What Web services are particularly good for at that grass-roots level is solving point-to-point integration problems between two heterogeneous systems so internal to a certain department that they may have all the same kind of system, in which case Web services aren't necessarily particularly useful. So whether it's a Microsoft COM interface talking to Java or if a mainframe is involved in some way, that may be more likely between departments.