Web services pioneers are already knocking on doors with their new solutions. While analysts can’t pinpoint when the true potential of Web services will be realized, experts that we interviewed still gave the go-ahead to consultants for launching their Web services offerings.

Three experts recommend using integration projects as a starting point but give some caveats about specific types of clients to seek and avoid. Read on for their take on selling Web services in today’s market.

Predictions for Web services through 2005
Gartner has predicted that Web services will take another two to five years to emerge from the “trough of disillusionment”—when the technology becomes unfashionable because it fails to live up to its overinflated expectations—and reach its “plateau of productivity,” when the real-world benefits of the technology are demonstrated and accepted.

Gartner predicts its emergence in 2005, as illustrated in Figure A. At that point, Web services have the potential to dramatically affect the future design of software solutions across many IT markets. Because the technologies surrounding Web services will be evolving amid intense competition and conflicts about standards over the next three years, Gartner advises service providers to “carefully manage expectations regarding Web services during the volatile period of backlash through 2004.”

Figure A

Determine how your clients can use Web services
Gartner research completed in January 2002 predicted that improving the alignment of IT with business strategy is the number one short-term priority of CIOs. Consultants can take advantage of that goal by simplifying the technical aspects of implementation and integration for clients using Web services.

At this point, consultants should definitely be analyzing where Web services fit into their clients’ product lines, said Bill Ericson, vice president of development at SwapDrive, a developer of online data backup systems.

“The cross-platform compatibility, consistent architecture, and easy discovery of Web services will be critical to most businesses,” Ericson said. “The protocol is very clearly defined and can be implemented on well-defined projects today.”

The best projects to pursue at this point are integration projects for medium- to large-size businesses, according to Ericson and Steve Brown, the CTO of Metastorm, a business process management (BPM) vendor.

EAI vs. Web services
While many firms have already invested heavily in Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) systems, Web services may have strong appeal for three reasons, according to Brent Sleeper.

  • EAI solutions link existing, monolithic applications into a common infrastructure, while Web services are designed to allow for smaller, modular functionality that can be assembled and reassembled into dynamic processes.
  • Most EAI technologies are designed to form discrete, prespecified connections, while Web services enable open-ended, one-to-many connections.
  • EAI solutions’ “all or nothing” models require a significant commitment of strategy and resources, while Web services can be deployed with incremental cost and effort.

Sleeper is a partner in The Stencil Group, a firm offering business strategies and implementation services to Internet companies.

Choose your clients wisely
Brown recommends that consultants look for clients who have a well-established but not well-integrated IT infrastructure because it’s those clients who stand to make a very early and very large return on investment. Brown said both suppliers, such as SAP, and clients are using Web services predominantly as “intraenterprise glue” because it’s easy not only to call, or produce, an existing Web service but also to produce a Web service interface on top of any existing application program interface (API).

“Organizations can now see their way to linking up all their legacy systems, without incurring the often massive—once consultancy charges have been factored in—expense of traditional EAI systems, or hand-coded solutions,” Brown said.

Use caution when selling Web services to EAI clients
Bernard Borges, the managing director of advanced technology practice at PwC Consulting, recommends that consultants look for small-scale Web services integration projects as they enter the market. He suggests that consultants proceed with extreme caution when attempting to sell Web services to clients who have already made a large investment in EAI. Instead, he suggests finding a way to utilize Web services around existing EAI for those clients.

“EAI was not necessarily a cheap proposition for clients,” Borges said. “Pushing Web services for integration is a bit tricky.”

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