Ready for a revolution?

I'm not surprised that so many of you have been writing me to profess your scepticism about web services and their ability to drive the next great software evolution.

I’m not surprised that so many of you have been writing me to profess your scepticism about web services and their ability to drive the next great software evolution.

History has demonstrated, too often, that the cure du jour for our IT ills will introduce additional maladies over time.

Today’s latest and greatest innovations have a way of becoming tomorrow’s niche-solution liabilities, creating epidemics of interoperability as business needs grow and technologies try to keep pace through retrofitting.

I admit web services still have a long way to go before replacing the hard-coded connections of today’s strictly programmatic paradigm. No doubt further clouding your vision of a holistic future are the various frameworks emerging and diverging amid the developing “standards”.

Given the variety of SOAP (simple object access protocol) implementations, ebXML, .Net, Hewlett-Packard’s e-Speak and an influx of vendors claiming the ability to harness the power of web services with their latest releases (many without even addressing the fundamentals of description and discovery — go figure), it’s become difficult to maintain a firm grasp on the concepts.

But, here is something to which you can hold tight: the XML underpinnings of web services should prove the ultimate equaliser for addressing interoperability, regardless of which web services framework your company standardises on. And XML standards (namely, the developing XML protocol requirements from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) will further help to standardise XML for distributed-computing efforts.

Ultimately, you will need to choose the framework and tools that best suit your shop’s existing standards. But any shop not already working with XML will find itself behind the times and, consequently, face a tough road toward benefitting from web services.

Get started with your integration today by revisiting all areas of your IT infrastructure and by gradually undertaking XML transformations to solve specific enterprise problems. (These can range from business-to-business transactions to directory services to messaging.)

Will web services be the end-all for our interoperability woes? I wouldn’t wager my first born on that happening, but, for the first time we’re seeing a cultural mind-set focused on developing a lowest common denominator capable of yielding more than fractional results.

A number of fundamentals are in need of attention before web services will offer a compelling benefit but, with a good foundation, I’d say the promise of web services is worth pursuing.

What do you say about that? Write to me at and let me know where you stand on web services.

James Borck is managing analyst in the InfoWorld Test Centre, reporting on e-business.

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