Web Services: Online Dating for Business Aps

Oct 27, 2004

By Bill Bittner

Web Services is a hot topic among computer application designers. The term refers to a set of standards that have been established to enable computer applications to interact with each other over the internet. With these standards, applications replace humans in fulfilling a three-step process: locating other applications on the internet; evaluating their usefulness; and linking functionality.

Here’s how it is intended to work:

  • Say an inventory management application needs a service — let’s say a weather forecast. It will be able to inquire against what is known as the UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration) Directory to locate weather forecasting applications.

  • For each one it locates, it can use WSDL (Web Services Description Language) to determine how to use it.

  • Finally, it will be able to query the weather forecasting service using SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), and use the results to adjust its inventory requirements.

Individual weather forecasting experts will be able to catalog their services in the UDDI. Although it is not part of the current standard, rating services may evolve to help in deciding which weather service has the best forecasts.

From the above scenario, only the last standard, SOAP, is commonly used in business to business implementations today. Steps one and two are still evolving.

The ultimate vision for the Web Services paradigm is that individual software companies will become experts in their field, offering their services over the internet for anyone to discover and utilize. In the retail world, the whole vision of Collaborative Planning and Forecasting may finally become a reality as the applications at the retailer and the manufacturer interact in real time. A retailer’s replenishment application would be able to automatically inquire about product availability and dynamically change load. A DSD manufacturer’s truck routing software would be able to inquire against a retailer’s store inventories to properly load its delivery trucks.

Moderator’s Comments: What do you think the future is for web services? To be successful, what changes will be necessary
in the way businesses conduct their activities?

Web Services could have a major impact on internal software development and the role, or even survival, of some in-house IT departments. But, the willingness
of companies to “farm out” critical services, such as inventory management and replenishment, is far from certain.

I believe the result of these new capabilities could be one of two extremes. On the one hand, the complicated aspects of discovery and description will
mean that in house IT departments will be around for quite a while to provide the integration between the various services. Retailer management will decide what applications they
want to use and the in-house department will use the standard interfaces to connect them.

On the other hand, retailers could say ‘the heck with it’ and sign up with key outside service providers — Financial, HR, Replenishment, WMS (Warehouse
Management Service), TMS (Transportation Management Service), and AMP (Advertising, Merchandising, and Pricing) — who use the standards to connect their services. The retailer’s
users would sign into the service and the in-house IT department becomes obsolete.

Both approaches need the retailer to re-think how their business processes are organized. In many instances, it is a “little cloudy” where responsibilities
lie. If multiple parties, not working for the retailer, are going to be involved in the handling of critical operations, it becomes imperative that the responsibilities are clear
and problems can be resolved quickly.

Bill Bittner – Moderator

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