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Top 10 ways to take advantage of Web services

Should you get on the Web services bandwagon? These tips can help you decide when, if and how to make the most of Web services.

Web services are not a shot in the dark anymore. The technology's light bulb is turned on. It's just not that bright. Yet.

Now that Web service technology is taking shape, the natural question on IT managers' minds is: What steps can I take to get the most out of this new technology? Seeking some answers to this question, SearchWindowsManageability interviewed Scott Cosby, Web services marketing manager for White Plains, NY-based IBM, Corp. He offers these tips for using Web services effectively.

1. Don't ignore Web services technology.
Because Web services will allow enterprises to communicate with suppliers quickly and easily, products can be taken to market more efficiently, said Cosby. So, ignoring Web services could put your company at a disadvantage. Similarly, system integrators need to integrate Web services with their existing applications in order to communicate effectively with customers who use Web services.

2. Start small.
Starting a small pilot project now will help you learn about Web services and its benefits for your business. Once you understand what Web services can do for your company on a basic level, you can increase functionalities. For example, at first, Web-based communication can be achieved between a business and its customers. Later, the company, its customers and its suppliers can be linked.

3. Educate IT architects and software developers on Web services basics now.
Master the Web services alphabet soup: XML, SOAP, WSDL and UDDI, Cosby said. Extensible Markup Language (XML) is the language of Web services. Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) is the Web services protocol to send messages and route addresses. Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) is the "yellow pages" to find which businesses have Web services. Web Service Definition Language (WSDL) describes the Web services you have so other companies can communicate with your company.

4. Comply 100% with Web services standards.
Effective communication using Web services will be impossible without 100% XML, SOAP, WSDL and SOAP compliance. "Part of the value of Web services is the ability to say, 'If I understand Web services and you understand Web services, we can work together,'" Cosby said. So, "avoid proprietary extensions," said Cosby. Software companies may try to incorporate Web services into their existing products. That could lead to problems, though, because those products won't be able to communicate with Web-based services that run on WSDL, XML, UDDI and SOAP standards.

5. Chose a vendor that can deliver stable and robust products.
Vendors that keep Web services standards up-to-date in its products are your best bet. "A vendor's ability to execute comes down to having the products to support Web services," said Cosby. If a vendor does not use the most current versions of XML, WSDL, UDDI and SOAP, you won?t be able to communicate.

6. Reinforce the basics: scalability, reliability, manageability and security.
Don't forget about the fundamentals of security, reliability, manageability and scalability. Because Web services are so new, heighten your awareness of how Web services affect each one, said Cosby. Ask yourself: Will Web services expose my firewall? Is my infrastructure still sound? What level can my software scale to using Web services?

7. Run multi-platform Web services.
Don't buy single-platform products from a vendor even if they promise to make Web services work better or faster, said Cosby. " Web services strive to make it as easy as possible for as many people as you determine to connect." If everyone you want to connect with uses the open standards of XML, UDDI, WSDL and SOAP, you will have no problem. If they don't, you're stuck not being able to communicate.

8. Acknowledge that Web services are not an integration cure-all.
Make sure your IT organization doesn't just rely on Web services to take care of all your integration needs, Cosby said. While Web services can provide basic integration advantages, it still doesn't remove the need for basic workflow and business automation processes to remain intact.

9. Realize Web services are still maturing.
There is a path Web services technology will follow. Last year, XML and WSDL, the core connectivity languages, were established. Over the next couple of years, more robust transactions and security will evolve, Cosby predicted. Use the time Web services is taking to develop to evaluate how your business can use the technology, he said.

10. Understand that Web services won't replace human beings.
People need to be involved in Web services to check on workflow processes and pricing, for instance. Remember, Web services will do everything up until a certain point, he said. Once humans approve a transaction, for example, the technology will move on to the next step to complete the whole process. "The human factor is still there," Cosby concluded. "It's just minimized."


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