Web services a job for the CTO

As is usually the case, today is both the best and worst of times. The cause of the latter is fairly obvious. For the past three months we have witnessed an economic downturn unprecedented in its swiftness. But some exciting technological innovation is happening behind the scenes.

As is usually the case, today is both the best and worst of times. The cause of the latter is fairly obvious. For the past three months we have witnessed an economic downturn unprecedented in its swiftness.

But some exciting technological innovation is happening behind the scenes. For the past several months most people have been discussing the implications of a new generation of web services that will be built on top of the next generation of application development tools being developed at companies such as Microsoft, Sun, Hewlett-Packard, Iona Technologies, Bowstreet Software and Oracle.

In terms of how we use software, the advent of web services will fundamentally change application development. Rather than building monolithic applications that only integrate with other applications through cumbersome interfaces added on to the application, the next generation of applications will be built from the ground up with integration in mind. This will open up a broad new array of options for developers. For example, rather than building their own billing component for an e-commerce application, developers will be able to incorporate a billing application from another source, either by downloading it or calling it across the internet.

In the future everyone who builds an application will need to take into consideration not only its intended use but unintended uses as well. The assumption that other people are going to use their code for some unforeseen application will substantially change the way developers approach their jobs.

For example, most e-commerce websites today are designed primarily as destination sites in their own right. But going forward, web services will allow those sites to more easily become components of other sites, such as a corporate portal within a large Global 2000 organisation. To make that happen, each website is going to have to be designed with the type of integration capability that is readily accessible to anybody who wants to use it.

This process will also change people’s perception of how software should be paid for. Rather than paying an annual licence fee to use an application or a component on an intermittent basis, people will become more comfortable using a pay-as-you-go model that is akin to the model used in the utilities industries. This means we are on the cusp of fundamental change. And the people who are always at the forefront of fundamental change are technology chiefs.

For the first time, the skill sets associated with application development and business acumen will converge simultaneously to reinvent software. In the past, business acumen has always trailed the emergence of disruptive technological change by years, if not decades. But as we continue to move forward, those skill sets are now joined at the hip in the person of the chief technology officer. So whereas things in the short term may appear to be bleaker than recent years, the future remains bright in terms of new opportunities for driving lasting change. And if you’re a true CTO, that’s what gets you up every day.

Vizard is the editor in chief of InfoWorld. Send email to Michael Vizard.

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