Here's one for the longer term. An increasing number of end-user organisations and vendors are becoming enamoured with web services, a development approach using XML-based standards to create loosely coupled applications and interlink existing legacy systems.
Locally, for example, Microsoft New Zealand says 300 application developers have attended training in .Net, its development platform for web services which competes with Sun Microsystems' Java. Lion Nathan IS staff have used Visual Studio.Net, a key part of .Net, to write web services that pull information from different legacy applications and present it on an internal portal so staff can check HR information online. There are 10 different web services, all interfacing to different systems. In the past Lion Nathan would have had to hand-code a script for each one.
But Bill Gates has reiterated the belief of Microsoft and analysts that web services are a five-year effort. In May Gartner picked a takeup delay of 18 months, mostly because of immature standards. XML, SOAP, WSDL and UDDI are well on their way through the acceptance process, but there are many more yet to come for functions like security and authentication. The Gartner report says enterprises should in the meantime target particular functions or business problems with broad but shallow impacts, such as improving real-time access to a largely obscured database.
Companies should also expect setbacks, says Gartner, particularly because of likely vendor interoperability conflicts. Several analysts agree web services aren't likely to replace every integration project, and companies are likely to concentrate on web services inside the enterprise before extending them to customers and partners. The vendors nudging each other for the prime spot may not even be the same: AMR research says a stagnant US economy and cautious IT spending are likely to whittle the potentially lucrative web services world to four major players, IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and BEA. We're sure Sun will have something to say about that.
Research firm IDC is at the early stages of research into the likely impact of web services at New Zealand and Australian firms. Taking a wider view, US researcher Giga Information Group predicts spending on web services will represent only about 5% of software integration spending in 2003, though it should pick up quickly thereafter.
Forrester found 84% of 70 US IT executives believe spending on web services technology will increase next year. It says integration managers see security as their number one obstacle, followed by limited tools and employee resistance. Eleven percent couldn't build a business case for web services.
What do vendors expect from the market? The big players, and others like HP and Borland, are co-operating on web service standards because they're hoping to gain a slice of a larger pie down the track, vendors and analysts told a Borland developers' conference in Sydney last month. Vendors appear, however, to be not yet putting specific financial targets on web services as a separate market. Probably wise.