Web services wisdom

When Ira Feuer thinks about Web services he sees a visionary technology that needs a visionary manager.

"What we are talking about here is the leading-edge technology wave of the future," says Feuer, who is the assistant director in the e-government department for Miami-Dade County in the US. He wants to be on the leading edge when it comes to installing responsibility for deploying the technology into the county's management structure.

Feuer is one of a handful of IT professionals who are beginning to see that the emerging Web services, which promises to break down the barriers between islands of technology, could also break down into a chaos of integrating diverse systems and business objectives.

What is the solution?

Create a management-level position, reporting to the head of IT manager or the chief information officer, and staff it with someone who can deftly navigate a company through the untracked territory of Web services using expertise in application development, testing, deployment, maintenance and management.

"This position has to be at a level where the manager can deal with the warring factions, a level that can put the .Net and Java battles aside," says Brian Anderson, director of product marketing for ClientSoft, which supplies software to Miami-Dade County for exposing legacy applications as Web services. "You need someone who is cross-functional."

Today, many companies have organically grown a staff of Web services devotees who have developed smaller projects and used their successes to sell their company on the benefits of the technology.

But the big payoff in the Web services model is all about integrating systems and applications from across the company and between companies in what is being billed as a service-oriented architecture (SOA). The SOA is the next step beyond just point-to-point integration using Web services.

And Feuer knows that step could be a whopper without some skillful leadership, so he is creating a management position that will oversee Web services adoption in Miami-Dade County.

"We have a tremendous number of mainframe applications we need access to through Web services," he says. "The role of our manager will be to determine which Web services will be critical for enterprise-wide deployment."

He says the manager, which he hopes to bring on before year-end, will need to understand the county's legacy applications and the new development environments around Java and Microsoft's .Net that are used to churn out Web services. And the manager will need to understand the business models surrounding both the legacy and object-oriented computing worlds.

Feuer says the manager will be the leader of a concentrated Web services team in the IT department. The team will include two senior analysts who are experts in Extensible Markup Language and the Simple Object Access Protocol, two cornerstone standards in the Web services model. As the manager sets the direction for Web services development, the analysts will organize and lead the projects.

"I'm not sure this would be an executive-level position, but it definitely will be a senior manager that reports to me," Feuer says.

Given the growing popularity in Web services, which is being driven by end-user success stories and major vendors such as IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Sun Microsystems, the role of a Web services manager or director might develop into one of those positions that is a staple at a majority of companies.

In a survey earlier this year by Gartner, 54 percent of users said they used or planned to use Web services to integrate applications within their organizations and with partners or customers during the next 12 months. And over the next 24 months, 65 percent of respondents said they used or were planning to use Web services intra- and inter-enterprise, while 23 percent said they would limit Web services projects to within the firewall.

With that kind of widespread adoption, experts say leadership will be key.

"The role we see is for an enterprise architect," says Jason Bloomberg, an analyst with ZapThink, an XML research firm. "When you use Web services as part of an SOA that is when you need corporate direction. The companies that don't have architectural leadership will end up with a rat's nest architecture."

Bloomberg says the skill set of these enterprise architects will have to range from experience with software development and hands-on coding to understanding the business processes that drive an organization.

"These architects will need to be both left- and right-brain people," Bloomberg says.

Regardless of what kind of smarts the eventual Web services director or manager is equipped with, the most important tool will be money.

In the Gartner survey, 48 percent of companies in North America said the stagnant economy has eaten away at the money they have to spend on Web services, and that could delay getting management teams in place.

"We'd love to move forward with the philosophy, but with budgeting the way it is we have to slow down," says John Piscano, chief technology officer for the Colorado Department of Agriculture in Denver. Piscano has already deployed five Web services and is looking to deploy more that will cut across other departments within the state government.

"As we start to examine Web services across our organization, we see management as a future need," Piscano says. "If you are planning a major rollout you better have it wired down or you will have stuff flying everywhere. What you need is a pure management approach."

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