Web services: too cheap to meter

In the early days of any phase of new technology the promise seems limitless, that’s how it used to be for Web services.

Pioneers envisioned a world in which enterprise-class applications would be built from myriad self-describing, openly connected, Web-based components.

Business people would build their own new apps by shuffling pieces without troubling IT.

The reality is less appealing. Although most enterprises have experimented with Web services, managing them has turned out to be harder than many had hoped.

And legions of highly paid consultants have sprung up to help sort it all out.

In that context, it’s refreshing to consider some of the findings of a survey of IT executives involved in Web services projects by IDC. It found most companies want to improve existing systems, not to boldly go where no business has gone. Around 38 per cent of projects were aimed at replacing existing functions; another 32 per cent at integration. Only 28 per cent focused on new functions. And 60 per cent of respondents expected the projects to pay for themselves within a year.

Companies hope to save money, not get rich quick. Nearly half (48 per cent) of today’s projects have expense reduction as their goal. Only 25 per cent aim to provide a competitive advantage, and a mere 13 per cent are to generate revenue.

Most companies still build their own. Some 70 per cent of projects today are developed internally, versus about 10 per cent by systems integrators or consultants.

Most companies want a partner that adheres to standards. That’s not surprising, given that Web services have always been standards-focused. But at the other end of the spectrum, companies give the lowest consideration to whether a potential partner can provide a complete solution. Buyers understand that “complete” usually means “proprietary”, and they’d rather find best-of-breed building blocks and assemble them on their own.

That’s smart. It may not yield computing power too cheap to meter, but it will definitely provide a solid return on investment.

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