The current state of Web services: From the mouths of the experts

Heather Ashton

Thinking Out Loud
The current state of Web services: From the mouths of the experts

Web services has captured the imagination and attention of the IT industry over the past year, and continues to gain momentum as the current "big thing." Had it competed at the recent Grammy Awards, it probably would have blown Alicia Keyes and the "O, Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack out of the water in both buzz and awards.

So, what are people saying backstage about Web services? Can it live up to the hype that got it the Best New Artist Award, or is it going to fade away as a one-hit wonder much like Sheryl Crow did after her Grammy Sweep?

Recently, Hurwitz Group spoke with several leaders in the Web services industry to gain insight into where they feel this current movement stands and what IT and business leaders can expect from Web services in the future. Below, Philip DesAutels, Product Manager for XML Web services at Microsoft, Rob Gingell, Chief Technologist for the Software/Systems Group at Sun Microsystems, and David Litwack, President and CEO of SilverStream, share some of their thoughts.

Okay, So It's Sexy, but Does It Provide Any Real Value?

One question that always arises for any new technology is what is its business value? An answer that IT professionals need if they are to convince business leaders that the technology investment will be worthwhile, i.e., it actually impacts the bottom line.

Here's Mr. DesAutels' response

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to the question of business value as it relates to Web services:

"The primary business value is lowering the cost of integration... In the near term, I think what we'll see is that businesses start to get much more value out of their integration, out of their installed application base. They really start to derive extra value out of that... I think long-term what we're going to see are very interesting business models. So inside the organization, this reuse gives me new power as an IT department. IT becomes a very valuable benefit to the company... [and is] viewed less as an expense and more as a contributor." That's good news for IT departments that are struggling to make more from less.

Is Web services Radical?

Another topic germane to Web services is the fact that it has been so over-hyped within the industry. Many new technologies (B2B, peer-to-peer) have suffered the fate of early demise due to over-promising and under-delivering. Since Web services has raised talk of some new and potentially far-out business models, Hurwitz Group wanted to know whether the people in the thick of things felt that Web services marks a revolution or an evolution of computing as we know it.

Mr. Litwack's response was: "Our CTO likes to say 'Web services is not magic. But Web services will change the world.' So, in many ways it is very much an evolutionary technology ... Client server wasn't visionary, but it changed the world because it made use of a number of incremental evolutionary technologies, starting with the personal computer and Windows and so forth... Web services doesn't exist without the Internet. It doesn't exist without HTTP or without XML or browsers... so Web services is simply the evolutionary cap piece in all this technology. But this is very much a case where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and the whole itself is revolutionary in the way businesses will use information."

As for the danger of being over-hyped and failing much like B2B did, Mr. Litwack argues that "part of [B2B's failure] was because all the technologies weren't in place at the time. We're getting to the point where the technologies, the standards, vendor products... are reaching a maturation level where they're really able to deliver on the promise."

So, What Does Web services Have to Do to Stay in the Game? Can It Stay on Billboard's Top 20, or Will It Crash and Burn Like Mariah Carey's Glitter?

We asked the experts what they thought the potential obstacles would be to widespread Web services adoption. Mr. Gingell had several thoughts on the subject: "To be useful, the universe of Web services is going to need to have a certain amount of critical mass before [businesses] can, on an every day basis, do useful things with the environment... there is some risk if you don't create enough of a seed set of services, that it might not [create] a sustainable chain reaction kind of effect [to propel adoption]."

Mr. Gingell sees a significant challenge in delivering on the promise initially: "The marketplace is rushing to get things out before they've really figured out the basic problems. People may find [initial Web services] not credible because it has flaws in basic ways. [Therefore] we do have to get the security and privacy issues figured out... if we rush in too quickly, then the marketplace is going to say 'Well, see, the computer industry did it again. More hype than substance.'" Hurwitz Group agrees that this is a critical factor in the ultimate success of Web services, ensuring that the products and solutions delivered are real and provide tangible benefits.

Final Words from Our Panel of Esteemed Judges

In closing, we offer you advice from each participant about what IT managers should be thinking of regarding Web services:

"[Web services] is an incredibly powerful tool in [IT's] tool box. It lets them bridge together the pieces that they have into new composable components, to deliver really new applications, and it gives them a lot of leverage. To the CIO, or the CTO, it gives them more flexibility and agility with their business. It's sort of the mantra of distributed computing architectures."
Philip DesAutels, Microsoft

"I guess the main piece of advice is keep learning. Forces that have taken us from the non-network era to the network era to the web applications era, and now to the Web services era, those forces, be they technological, industrial, or societal, are going to continue to operate. So, everybody should have their eyes open about these issues."
Mr. Rob Gingell, Sun Microsystems

"I guess I would say that businesses that will succeed in the future are going to be businesses that can adapt to evolving and changing audiences very rapidly, and Web services is the mechanism to do that. If you fail to do that, you'll fail to be competitive as a business going forward."
Mr. David Litwack, SilverStream

Copyright 2002 Hurwitz Group Inc. This article is excerpted from TrendWatch, a weekly publication of Hurwitz Group Inc. - an analyst, research, and consulting firm. To register for a free email subscription, click here.

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