Hitch in the giddyup

Over the mountain of the next e-frontier, competitive advantage will be won by faster time to market, enhanced functionality, and successfully integrating the customer. Many companies, however, still lack the infrastructure required to compete in real time, due to critical business processes still mired in the tracks of a legacy wagon train.

But attempting to modernize legacy applications carries a sizable risk. In particular, migrating from the green screen to the wireless Web requires navigating a long, tortuous, and costly trail.

Approaches such as screen-scraping typically delivered substandard performance and limited portability. Completely rebuilding applications on a modern architecture carries the burden of separating business process logic from presentation in an error-prone dissection of often undocumented code. Still, preserving the viability of these investments is more advantageous than putting them out to pasture.

Fortunately a reasonable solution can be found in the one-two punch of Web services and the J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) Connector Architecture. This duo provides an extensible, standards-based approach to exposing application functionality, as well as an interface for accessing legacy transactions and data over the Web.

Using J2EE Connector Architecture circumvents the current lack of toolkits for direct exposure of Web services interfaces for languages including Cobol and Fortran, and preserves many benefits, such as business process management capabilities becoming available from major Web services platform vendors. Whether your goal is to pull in new partners, weave with the Web, or integrate in-house applications, capitalizing on untapped legacy resources through Web services makes good business sense. With the close ties between legacy and other dated systems, such as ERP and CRM, which are frequently self-contained and limited in their capability to fulfill real-time business requirements, the potential for improving capabilities and efficiency with Web services abound.

But the reality is that Web services are far from revolutionary; in fact, you should view Web services as the next evolution in enterprise operational efficiency. Support for SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) and XML are easily implemented, and the universality of Web services will help set the stage for long-term savings and allow enterprises to breathe new life into already tried-and-true legacy investments. In an industry where hitting the right technology balance is like aiming for a moving stagecoach, the bottom-line benefits could put you right on target.

How is your company planning to recapture the potential in its legacy investment? What other innovations do you have in store for Web services? Write to me at james_borck@infoworld.com and let me know.

James R. Borck is managing analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center.

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