Web services boosting business processes

On an eerily still morning inside the Jacob Javits center here Tuesday, Charles Fitzgerald, Microsoft Corp.'s general manager of platform strategies, kicked off the Internet World Fall 2002 conference by discussing how Web services change the way that business processes can be used.

Addressing a half-empty room, Fitzgerald told attendees that as Web services bring the cost of integration down, companies can start to let the business itself dictate the business process, rather than molding the business to work around the processes.

"The business process is becoming the new unit of work," Fitzgerald said, pointing to the forthcoming BPEL4WS, a programming language that can be used to describe business processes, as one example.

He added that using Web services for integration opens up new possibilities not typically associated with more expensive integration projects.

"If we have a mechanism to get different systems to talk to each other, we can start to think about the business processes," he said.

The potential to make better use of business processes, Fitzgerald said, fits into Microsoft's larger strategy of the agile business.

"On one hand, business agility is a new concept. On the other hand, it is a reflection," he added. "If you're going to be successful over time, you've really got to embrace change."

The challenge posed to business agility, however, is breaking the mindset that IT is a "cost center." "We've got to rethink IT priorities," Fitzgerald said.

He continued by telling the crowd four things that companies can do: better connect to customers, get plugged into partners, make employees more productive, and look at business processes.

"All these strategies come back to the same problem, and that's integration," he said.

Fitzgerald reiterated that Web services are the latest in a line of technologies designed to make integration easier and less expensive, while reducing the number of errors typical of more complex integration methodologies.

"It just happens that [ Web services] is really hitting the IT sweet spot," he said.

Fitzgerald pointed to a number of customer scenarios and industry support for associated standards as evidence that Web services are gaining steam.

He continued that Web services projects thus far fit into two groups. The first is people integrating with partners; the second is companies using Web services to streamline business processes.

"As we go forward, you're going to see more and more innovation in this Web services stack," Fitzgerald said.

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