The benefits of Web services will be profound, but not easily or quickly obtained. Building application-to-application links will require not only excellent technologists but skilled managers and leaders as well.
For corporate computing, the big story of the new millennium has been Web services. As the excitement around the Y2K “crisis” and e-commerce business models faded just after the turn of the century, enthusiasm started to build for this technology, which is a set of tools that make it easier for applications to talk to each other. In other words, Web services install the plumbing required for information systems to interact without human involvement. An important aspect of Web services is that they work as well between companies as within them. Just as the Internet and the World Wide Web led to a huge change in how people interact with distant applications (for example, the applications at Amazon.com), so the Internet and Web services hold out the promise of drastically changing how distant applications interact with each other. See sidebar
About the Research
Over the past five years, in researching and writing case studies on more than a dozen multicompany efforts to deploy and profit from IT, I noticed sharp differences between those that involved people and those that aimed to get people “out of the loop” via Web-services technologies. IBM’s midrange B2B-ordering effort provided an excellent opportunity to analyze and understand why this was the case, and to explore whether the great enthusiasm around Web services was justified. To write the case study summarized here, I interviewed more than 20 people at IBM and four of its European distributors, and reviewed data on project timing and outcomes. I also immersed myself in the literature about the impact and evolution of Web-services technologies, and in relevant work in computer science and economics.
But how real is this promise? Will Web services be a truly disruptive innovation that revolutionizes how companies interact? Or will they turn out to be the latest in a series of technologies, developed and promoted by the highly entrepreneurial IT industries, that fizzle when they hit the real world? (You may remember CASE tools and Internet “push” technology.1) The answer is that they will be neither. They will be highly useful, but not quickly or obviously disruptive; in fact, they will reinforce existing relationships rather than catalyze new ones.