At SoftCare, we believe that Web Services are the critical “glue” to consolidate, audit and integrate business applications across an enterprise and to a company’s demand and supply chain. We define Web services as “Web services are self-contained business functions that operate over the Internet. They are written to strict specifications to work together and with other similar kinds of components”1. At SoftCare products such as our Trade Manager product was built to take advantage of Web Services. Bill Gates commenting on the importance of Web services said: “Web services gives us the ability of any software component, written in any language, running on any operating system, to find and connect up to and exchange in a secure, reliable, transacted way information with another piece of software”2
Web services are critical to companies today because they enable systems resident on different machines (either internal or internal) to interact with each other, quickly and efficiently without costly modifications to systems. As companies rely more and more on closer cooperation between themselves and their suppliers and customers, they need the capability to link up their systems quickly with other companies. Thus Web services give companies to add functionality to do more business electronically, with more potential business partners, in more and different ways than before, and at a lower cost. Products such as SoftCare’s Trade Manager that connect, audit and manage business transactions via Web Services will enable the connection of business functions quickly and efficiently.
As Web services are written according to standards, all parties work from the same basic design. Companies then add value and business advantage to the basic design to meet the needs of themselves and their trading partners. For example, a company can offer its suppliers the capability to view on-hand inventory levels to allow the suppliers to facilitate Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI). Web services provide the basic messaging and service-description functions for this kind of electronic relationship, and it allows companies to add on to basic functionality to facilitate better “customer” service. Web Services allows all companies to extend their capabilities to their trading partners, since Web Services are built on standards.
In addition, as Web services are quickly becoming the new development standard, which allow companies to quickly and simply expose their business applications to the web, products such as SoftCare’s Trade Manager are increasing becoming an important product for “managing” and “auditing” applications written using Web Services. Web Services also allows products and services written in a variety of different operating systems and languages to co-exist, which ensures that new development will be portable and reusable.
Web services are the defacto standard as companies as diverse as Microsoft, Sun and IBM have embraced Web services. The following is a brief excerpt from a speech by Bill Gates, Chairman and Chief Software Architect, Microsoft Corporation at the Gartner Symposium, San Diego, California, March 29, 2004 in regards to Web Services:
BILL GATES: Web services are super, super important. Essentially in the '90s, with the Internet, we got the ability to flow bits from any computer on the planet to any other computer on the planet. And people sort of thought, well, wow, we can flow bits between all these things; doesn't that mean we're going to have electronic commerce and buying and selling and all the software will magically work together? Well, the answer is no. Unfortunately, just having the bits flow, then it just leaves the question of what the heck do these bits mean and where do I find the bits, how do I make sure they're accurate, how do you deal with it if software on the other end fails.
And so there's never been a protocol that lets software connect to another piece of software, find it, look at its capabilities and have really complex flows of information back and forth. The starting point for doing this was XML. In the mid '90s Microsoft and some other people got very excited about taking that, which was really a document standard, and turning that into a data standard.
And that has flourished. XML is such a phenomenal technology and the tools around it, it's been amazing. Everything we dreamed XML would become, it is becoming. When you have nuts in your shop who say XML is magic, well, basically they're right. This heterogeneous data, data mapping, data-viewing stuff is all coming out of that.
But XML is just a way of expressing the data; we still needed protocols for finding each other and exchanging it. And amazingly, starting at about 2001, both IBM and Microsoft decided it was important to us to have these high-level protocols in a completely system-independent way, so that the mainframe could talk to anything, Windows could talk to anything. And this was because we wanted customers to be able to develop this next generation of applications where data flows very easily. E-commerce is just one example of that.
MICHAEL D. FLEISHER: So what's the action item on Web services?
BILL GATES: Well, the action item is that anybody who does any development or thinks about architecture application, you've got to look at what's happened with XML and say, OK, databases will be XML, Office will be XML, and what sort of schemas are important to your organization, are they being standardized horizontally or just in your industry group or does your organization have to do extended schemas around those things.
Then you think, wow, can we publish our capabilities as Web service, can we connect up to other Web services. It's a whole mindset change that lets you compose things in a much richer way.
And all the new applications that get developed will be Web services and even existing applications you can put a layer on top of them that connect them into this Web service world. It's not a rip and a replace kind of thing. In fact, when we've gone into do government portals, we can take these huge, crazy applications that, say, do taxes or social security, and build a Web services layer on top so that then you can create a portal that gives the illusion that all these government applications really have a common architecture and work very well together.
In conclusion, at SoftCare we designed products such as Trade Manager with the belief that Web services combines the best aspects of component-based development and the Web. A Web service comprises software applications that reside on network nodes distributed across the Web. A Web service program acts as the conductor to ensure that this software ensemble performs according to your design blueprints. Like components, Web services represent black-box functionality that can be reused without worrying about how the service is implemented. Unlike legacy component technologies (DCOM, RMI or IIOP), Web services are accessed via ubiquitous Web protocols (ex: HTTP) and data formats (ex: XML) which increases portability while increasing speed to implement a function.
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