The enemy of Web services is cultural

Gerard Florian

The natural enemy of Web Services will not be technical — it will be cultural. The single biggest threat to Web Services succeeding in the way so many pundits hope it will, is ego. The Web Services view of the world makes the assumption that the business is ready to let go of its favourite toys.

In this ideal world, Web Services promises seamless delivery of services to the business from a vast array of service providers. To simplify this, Web Services relies on one basic behaviour taking hold in our business community: sharing. As a father of young children, I know how difficult this concept is to sell!

So how do you sell the concept of Web Services to the corporate “sandpit”? The same way as you would when you ask your kids to share their toys — mutual benefit.

In talking to many organisations it becomes clear that words like share and trust are rarely exchanged among internal business units, let alone with external partners. So why will the “corporate kids” suddenly be prepared to trust an external service provider with key components of their supply chain process or payroll when there has been a clear track record of self-sufficiency? Why would groups let go of “their” infrastructure to adopt a more virtual model where resources are provided on demand?

In much the same way you would do with kids, you need to educate organisations about the benefits of sharing. Without the correct level of internal education, nothing will change. This education needs to take place across all business units including IT services covering the business issues such as operational costs and core competency as well as the technology issues such as security and standards.

The awareness campaign needs to be a proactive one that runs for at least the next 12 to 18 months. By then more mainstream services will become available, and the organisation will be ready to trust others.

The approach some leading organisations are taking with small internal pilot projects is the best way to get a handle on how Web services might be consumed. The rationale behind Web services pilot projects is to build internal awareness and confidence — so it is unlikely that you would select a mission-critical service first up. By limiting the scale of the project and controlling the environment, you are more likely to nurture support. It may also pay to keep the pilot internal-facing as, in the absence of well-defined and adopted standards in terms of security, Web services are best deployed where this is less of an issue, thus limiting the potential risk of failure. Examples of some projects under way on the local front are room booking services that link calendars, messaging and phones in meeting rooms via XML and SOAP, and information services that deliver information from one data source to users via multiple channels.

At the same time, many other organisations are evaluating what business they are actually in and selective out-tasking for non-core functions is becoming more prevalent. Those who are crystal clear about their core competencies and what they need in the way of standards-based systems will be the ones to exploit the new Web services world and set new benchmarks in business agility.

However, if vendors can’t lead by example and uphold the ideal of mutual benefit with respect to standards compliance, and users can’t embrace the values of trust and sharing, then maybe everyone should take their bat and ball and go home.

But — it’s not much fun playing on your own, is it?

Gerard Florian is CTO of Dimension Data

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