The capacity of the IT business to continuously re-invent itself is truly amazing. While PDM has been covering such things, we have seen the holy grail of interoperability chased by various solutions. In the early days it was all going to be done by the data model. Then came business objects. Both technologies are still moving forward, and are bearing fruit in a discreet way. But they got sidelined to a large extent when the e-business wave broke over our heads and swept us all web-ways.
Suddenly, the world got turned on its head. Instead of applying (albeit unwieldy) tools to (albeit intractable) problems, the IT world discovered a new hammer (XML) and was desperately seeking nails to bash. For a reason which escapes me, the focus shifted to e-commerce, and in particular, e-procurement. Elsewhere in this issue of PDM we report on how upstream e-procurement is faring. As things are not exactly going great, it must be time for technology to move on..
The latest hammer looking for a nail is ‘Web Services,’ and POSC, Shell, IBM and the UK DTI are seeking participants for their development. The project involves the development of standard protocols for business to business (B2B) interaction through Web Services (WS). WS sets out to allow machine to machine communication and interoperability. The technology should allow for the automation of activities such as joint venture reporting, governmental consents and other business to business activities. Web services is “e-business, round two.”
Web Services use the Internet to allow computers to inter-operate without human intervention. They extend web based protocols such as HTTP and XML with emerging interoperability technologies such as SOAP and UDDI to let programmers locate and use services on foreign computers.
PDM readers may sense some déjà vu coming on. Earlier in our existence we followed a protracted debate on interoperability through CORBA. While this technology is deployed in several upstream data sharing projects - notably with Open Spirit, CORBA’s tight coupling is deemed inappropriate for the loosely coupled world of the Internet.
At the POSC Web Services road show, IBM Web Services guru Tony Frico outlined how web services would let businesses describe and publish services they have to offer. Other businesses can ‘discover’ and invoke them in a secure manner. Web Services are ‘moving quickly because it’s a great idea.’
Web services adds to the XML alphabet soup vocabulary introducing a ‘transport layer’ - SOAP and the Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI), a global internet registry of business service descriptions with over 2000 companies registered to date.
Not behind my firewall!
One issue confronting Web Services advocates is that at least one company has declared “we will never let anybody behind our firewall”. Another issue is that many companies may fight shy of such automated openness in their joint venture accounting. Do you really want your JV partners auditing your accounts before you’ve even seen them? It is just conceivable that some companies might be similarly reticent to total B2Government perestroika.
The new protocols solve the ‘burning issues’ in the B2B arena - how to ‘choreograph’ business transactions over multiple operating systems, language and applications. Frico claims ‘heavyweight’ take up of web services, but as far as I know these are not in the upstream. There is probably more immediate application in the field of EDI-based transactions between supermarkets and their suppliers. On the other hand, the reception that the B2B exchanges have received might suggest that there is an opening for web services. The argument might go as follows, the B2B exchanges have failed to eliminate the middleman, so lets eliminate the exchanges themselves and replace them with transactions between machines.
Don’t know what SOAP is about? How about this “SOAP is IT infrastructure which will allow interoperability where CORBA and DCOM have failed. SOAP is XML messaging plus remote procedure calling à la CORBA. Servers can be anywhere on the internet, and can be clustered. SOAP is a minimalist protocol for invoking methods on servers, objects, services and components”. The source? PDM, July 2000. Where else would you get the essentials of a new technology over a year before the rest of the pack?
Actually my best bet for killer new technology is Voice-ML as described by Amerada Hess’ Gary Moucha inside this issue of PDM. What’s neat about VXML is the way it leverages existing infrastructure (the cell phone) and rolls out new technology without waiting on new infrastructure. But I found the technology trick of the month in an email from SAP which invited me to attend a webcast. With a single click, the invitation became an entry in my Outlook calendar and thence to my PDA! Once I’ve found out how to plug my Eye-Trek stereo specs into my iPAQ, I’ll be watching SAP webcasts while walking down the street! If you see me coming, better step aside...
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