Web services integration cost effective

With IT spending levels not expected to rise for the foreseeable future, most CTOs are increasingly turning to Web services as a way to more cost effectively deliver integrated solutions across the enterprise, according to an Accenture Ltd. executive on Tuesday at InfoWorld's CTO Forum conference in the US.

The conservative spending levels come at a time when the workload of most IT organizations is getting heavier, in particular the sometimes-expensive task of integrating data isolated in far-flung corners of the enterprise.

"The amount of work to be done in IT is ever growing and, unfortunately, the cost of integration is rising. In fact most CTOs tell us that integration might be the most expensive aspect of integration, which is why many shops are going 'un-integrated,'" said Anthony Roby, a senior executive at Accenture based in New York . "Web services will be the dominant architecture for the delivery of interoperable business solutions," he said.

On the bright side, according to Roby, many top-tier vendors are beginning to realize the predicament of many IT shops and are beginning to focus more on existing development standards including .Net and Java Enterprise Edition 2.0 (J2EE) instead of pushing new technologies, which should speed the delivery of better integrated solutions for the enterprise.

"Connectivity is becoming a business imperative, it is paramount. So rather than vendors pushing a new wave of technology they are waking up to the fact that many problems can be solved with existing solutions such as .Net and J2EE," Roby said.

With both vendors and users focusing more of their efforts around these two platforms, cutting-edge technology will no longer necessarily be what helps IT shops differentiate their technical solutions from their competitors. Rather, it will be how users use applications developed on platforms such as .Net and J2EE to gain insights into how they can integrate their data and offer more compelling services and products to their customers.

"Once everyone starts using the same types of technologies, technology by itself will no longer be the driving force. It will be how you use and implement that technology, how you move around and integrate data, and what insights you can gain about what is going on within your own organization," Roby said.

Underlining his point, Roby said four of Accenture customers have effectively used Web services-driven strategies to increase technical efficiencies, including the Australian Taxation Office, which used Web services for a single-service business portal that allows business access to government agencies, and the French-based SocieteNationale, which used Web services to develop an online portal permitting users to access its products as well as make available offerings from a number of partners.

Another company giving witness to the value of Web services at the conference on Tuesday was Verizon, which said it employed Web services to help fuel its growth through the creation of more innovation, products, and services; as an architectural enabler to create tighter efficiencies; and to launch its upcoming Digital Companion Product.

"After the [dot-com] bubble burst we knew cost was going to be the main driver of things and I think we did pretty well there. "But while we reduced costs and improved profits, that was not going to be enough. We realized the role of IT was not just that of cost containment but that we needed to take a more active role in improving top-line growth as well," said Luis Lando, a senior executive in Verizon's IT organization in Boston.

One of the first things Verizon Communications Inc. did as part of its Web services strategy was to look at maximizing its existing assets, most of which are contained in its US$150 billion Verizon Core Network. The company's challenge was to infuse it with some new technologies that made the existing ones easier to use as well as work well with products and services.

"When we looked at our core assets, we had lots of services our customers were not using. The problem was [the services] were not flexible and convenient enough. People really didn't know how to use them," Lando said.

Verizon is using three guiding principles in creating Web services to address this challenge: To make sure that it delivered something with compelling functionality that saves time and money, that it could seamlessly evolve with that of their users computing behavior, and that the development effort "did not break the bank," Lando said.

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