While most companies are still testing the .NET waters, a handful of early adopters have put the XML-based Web services technology into production already. So far, they give .NET's ability to give businesses greater control of data a thumbs-up.
Three early adopters of .NET technology -- Nationwide Building Society, Pacific Life, and divine Inc. -- are now using Web services to solve data analyst problems. They discussed their projects, recently at Microsoft's TechEd 2002 conference in New Orleans.
Two years ago, Nationwide Building Society needed a better way to intelligently expose its home loan application data. So, David Green, a software architect at the Swindon, England-based mortgage lender, spent much of 2000 and 2001 helping the company build the new application.
Recently Nationwide converted the loan application entirely to the .NET framework. "We saw .NET as raising the level of the platform in a way that supports many of the things we do," said Green. "We also wanted to retire some of our own infrastructure in favor of material that was externally supplied and maintained."
With .NET, a more effective customer portal was built, Green said. .NET makes the loan information easily accessible for customers from branches or the Internet, he said. Nationwide is nearly a 100% Microsoft shop, so the company went with .NET, Green said, "because we knew of no compelling evidence that a shift to Java would have got us to a better place."
Another organization, Pacific Life, also found a solution in .NET. The Life Insurance division of Pacific Life needed a better way to exchange data with business associates. "We needed a solution that would enable us to leverage our current investments in both software assets and developer skills and still be able to deliver this next generation of capabilities," said Brad Sherrell, a Pacific Life vice president. So, Sherrell was happy to find XML Web services.
"The .NET framework is providing a lot of infrastructure that we do not have to create or maintain, thus making our developers more productive," said Sherrell. The Newport Beach, Calif.-based company built three applications with .NET to increase data exchange. One application provides daily investment information for Pacific Life's fund products and is an XML Web service, said Sherrell. The next application is written in ASP.NET and is rewrite of Pacific Life's policy owner Web site. The third is a Web service used by the policy owner Web site. "Web services are now the plumbing, the building blocks, of our extranet," said Sherrell.
A year ago, Chicago, Ill.-based divine knew automating its business model and consolidating its disparate systems was necessary to remain a competitive managed services company. Increasing customer base without increasing costs was the company's goal, according to Doug Thews, divine's director of Web development.
"We chose .NET as our development platform because it provides access to multiple true object oriented languages, such as VB.NET and C#, while not eliminating my investment in existing VB and C/C++ developers," Thews said. In addition, .NET increases developer productivity because it is not necessary to write code over and over again. Because .NET integrates with Web services, divine's disparate systems can be accessed, said Thews.
Now divine uses .NET on a daily basis. The company's Operational Support System (OSS) was built from the ground up on .NET technology. "We built the entire system with Web Forms on .NET," said Thews. Divine's OSS and managed services extend its customers' business systems to their suppliers, partners and customers. "Web services are important building product for us," said Thew.
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