Transforming e-business with e-speak

There is no denying that leveraging the Internet to streamline corporate business processes has resulted in dramatic gains, introducing efficiencies in both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) transactions. Most of today's e-business implementations, however, are little more than automation extensions of traditional processes: hard-wired relationships and corporate partnerships forged to meet a common but predefined goal. For the moment, Hewlett-Packard is closest to delivering on the e-services promise.

The company's e-services development framework, called e-speak, represents the most cohesive and comprehensive set of building blocks available for developers looking to turn assets into readily available e-services over the Internet. Furthermore, HP's commitment to open-source distribution positions e-speak as possibly the most viable contender in this budding technology space.

We took a look at the latest developer's release of e-speak, Developer Release 3.03, and found a kit that provides only a rudimentary set of tools and templates to get the ball rolling. Management tools, too, are still lacking capabilities necessary for immediate enterprise-scale viability, including integration with third-party management tools. But the groundwork has been laid, and most of what is currently lacking has already been slated for future releases.e-services represent self-contained, Internet-based applications capable not only of completing tasks on their own, but also possessing the capability to discover and engage other e-services in order to complete higher-level transactions.

Through a common vocabulary and a published directory of capabilities, e-services can automatically search and locate other e-services to complete a process without human intervention.

For individual companies, the ability to advertise a service's capabilities to other services, both internal and external to the organisation, affords high visibility and a marketplace-style environment for outsourcing that can quickly enhance company offerings, extend the scope of existing assets, and increase revenue.

And since e-services are positioned as unbundled resources rather than all-encompassing applications, they provide a modular, self-contained functionality that can be brought to market quickly and updated readily as business strategy dictates.

Furthermore, e-services make e-business assets more accessible. No longer do customers need to visit a merchant's Web site to engage their services. e-services are being created to run on any device, anywhere, each one capable of triggering requests that set into motion a chain reaction of services devoted to a common goal - in effect, enabling outsourcing on demand.

Many e-services are already cropping up behind the scenes in Web-based applications. For example, UPS' package tracking, MapQuest.com's driving directions, and even banking and brokerage firms are making their services externally accessible.

Although the benefits of their services-based approach may seem clear-cut, these forerunners of nascent e-services integration confront a common problem: the lack of a universal means of intercommunication among e-services.

Widespread e-services integration will require the implementation of a common framework such as that found in HP's e-speak, which provides a vocabulary and interface that aid in bridging the discovery and communication between disparate applications across the Internet.

Of course, HP is not the only company pushing an e-services framework. In fact, HP faces a tough climb to acceptance, particularly in light of the recent announcements of IBM's and Microsoft's joint support of comparable structures such as universal description, discovery, and integration and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) for facilitating the interaction of e-services.

Under the hood

e-speak provides an open platform for building distributed, open systems for widespread, service-oriented brokering and delivery over the Internet. Based on open standards, e-speak is a framework for development and deployment with many benefits to e-services: introspection and self-registration; advertising of service capabilities; security, protocol and transport mechanisms; and brokering, management, and monitoring. Together, these capabilities allow one service to autonomously seek out and employ other services.

The e-speak software platform is comprised of a core, Java-based Service Engine and a Service Framework Specification (SFS) that supply a blueprint API for service creation and wrapping. The e-speak network object model supports programming languages like C++ and Java, an XML-based document object model, and compatibility with pervasive object models like CORBA, Enterprise JavaBeans, and Distributed Computing Environment (DCOM), delivering uncompromised deployment independence.

The e-speak engine adds secure message routing between client and service, even across firewalls, delivering end-to-end security between the application and the service handler. And because the engine runs on any machine that supports a Java Virtual Machine, e-services can be deployed in a highly distributed manner.

Advertising and discovery

One of the most important features of e-services will be the ability to advertise your services to other services. The e-speak platform establishes a universal language with common vocabulary that is published, along with introspective details of your service offerings, such as cost and billing, input/output specifications, and communication protocols to local repositories and other market-relevant e-speak engines on the Internet. Then, through e-speak's dynamic brokering capabilities, e-services can search, locate and negotiate with other e-services beyond the local core, regardless of underlying technology.

The entire process is handled automatically and transparently to the end user.

Open platform

Importantly, HP is not attempting to exclude anyone from playing on this new field. e-speak adopts interoperability mechanisms including standards such as BizTalk, RosettaNet and CommerceNet.e-speak implements a number of additional security requirements essential to opening enterprise-scale e-services to third parties, including firewall negotiation, solid support for key-based encryption, and maps between virtual and actual handler implementation references protecting the anonymity of the requester.

Although still immature, HP's offering remains, by far, the most advanced e-services effort available to date.

Regardless of which standard evolves to become the dominant force in the marketplace, the e-services movement will help drive new revenue streams and create improved business efficiencies that will benefit businesses and consumers in the next phase of e-business.

Available free from the HP Web site, e-speak is definitely worth exploring while the e-services infrastructure marketplace continues to develop.

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