Shrinking Application Backlog:
Using Web Services to Access
Integration: The CIO’s Number One Challenge
Every year, major corporations throughout the world spend millions of dollars to integrate applications and streamline interactions with customers and trading partners. According to Forrester research, global companies spent, on average, $6.3 million in 2001 on their integration efforts.1 However, in spite of all the spending, integration continues to be a critical “hot-button” issue that plagues corporate IT. According to a Morgan Stanley CIO Survey Series Report from March 2002, application integration is still the number one problem facing CIOs of global organizations. Connecting to customers via the Internet ranked second, and other challenges rounding out the top 20 include connecting to suppliers via the Internet, new application development, and packaged software applications associated with ERP, CRM, SCM, mainframe and financials. Forrester Research had similar findings in their survey of 50 managers in Global 3500 companies. An “overwhelming 98% said that integration was either “extremely important” or “very important” to their firm’s IT strategy – and for many firms, integration issues have become a topic for board-level discussions.2
Bringing New Systems to Life
While it may be obvious to some, these statistics beg the question: why?
Why is “integration” a higher priority than building out a sales-force automation system? Or enhancing the enterprise website? Or creating a portal that allows employee self-management of benefit choices and contact information? Or providing customer service representatives with a system that delivers a single view of the customer on the other end of the phone, unifying all previous orders and interactions and making suggestions for selling new products based on past customer behavior and implied preferences?
It is easy to identify the business value created by the systems above. Each has the direct potential to reduce costs or increase revenue, or both, while enhancing the organization’s ability to efficiently serve a growing customer and employee base. But each of these systems builds on, or integrates with, existing systems within the enterprise. For example, the employee self-service portal may require access to information in an existing PeopleSoft system. A “single view of customer” may need to leverage many systems, including a Siebel system where customer information is maintained, an inventory management module in an SAP application, and a custom-built legacy order management system. Bringing these new systems to life – rapidly and cost-effectively – requires a sound and efficient integration strategy and architecture. Without it, the application development and system implementation process is dramatically impeded. And the CIO is limited in his or her ability to execute the mission – leveraging technology for business advantage.
Web Services Technology: Front and Center
Leading industry analysts have identified Web services technology as potentially revolutionary in the area of connecting enterprise applications – both within the walls of an organization and across enterprise boundaries. Using the term “revolutionary” to describe Web services would be hyperbole if one were talking strictly about web services technology. In pure technology terms, Web services are a stepwise evolution of the “distributed enterprise computing” movement that has been in full swing for nearly a decade.
But past attempts at driving standards to make enterprise software interoperable (DCE, CORBA, DCOM) have failed – primarily because they were complex; adoption required the retooling of system software and network stacks; and success required widespread vendor buy-in that never materialized. What is revolutionary about Web services is not the concept, but the leverage and simplicity Web services standards gain by “riding on” the Internet-based infrastructure universally deployed in the enterprise today and, most importantly, the widespread vendor support enjoyed by these standards. This vendor support is not merely lip service. Products supporting Web services standards are the strategic thrust of nearly every enterprise software vendor today.
From Microsoft’s Office Applications to IBM’s WebSphere J2EE Application server, the applications and platforms used to build the “front-line” applications with which employees, partners, customers and suppliers directly interact now natively support the ability to consume and build on Web services. All major platform vendors support native consumption of web services, accelerating the creation of business systems bringing business advantage. But the ability to rapidly create new business systems via these applications and platforms mandates that key business processes, information and capabilities be available as Web services.
For example, creating an employee self-service HR portal using the Epicentric Foundation Server portal platform, which can natively connect to and use Web services, requires that key employee management Web services be available – for example, services to adjust health plan coverage, update contact information, make tax deduction elections, elect 401(k) plan benefits and so on. If these services are available, the portal creation activity is nearly effortless. The problem is, these services are not available in most (if any) enterprises today. The Challenge of “Feeding” the Platform Customers have at their disposal amazing platforms on which to create new business systems faster, better and cheaper than ever before possible.
But without Web services to feed them, the platforms are limited in their utility when connectivity to other software systems is required (almost every meaningful enterprise software project). This is not to say the platforms are without utility, for there are other ways to feed them. The most obvious approach is through platform adapters. Portal vendors, application server vendors and EAI platform vendors (each of these platform types are converging to become overarching “application platform” offerings) all advertise the breadth of adapters and connectors available to “feed their platform.” These adapters typically support connections to custom, legacy and packaged applications. • BEA notes there are two ways to connect WebLogic-based applications with existing enterprise assets – through JCA (the Java Connector Architecture) adapters or through Web services. • Microsoft advertises their BizTalk server and its BTAF (BizTalk Adapter Framework) adapters as one way “in” to the .NET architecture. The other way is through Web services. • Plumtree will sell its “gadgets” for connecting a Plumtree Portal application to existing assets. But Web services are also a first-class mechanism for populating a Plumtree Portal application. What is not obvious is that platform adapters often require a substantial amount of hand coding and platform expertise, while leveraging Web services through these same platforms is typically a point-and-click exercise.
What is obvious is that Web services provide a consistent integration path to every platform, while adapters and connectors are platform unique. Using platform adapters creates the need to “integrate” for each and every project. The first project built on a BEA WebLogic platform where connectivity with SAP is required may be completed using JCA adapters, but the next project on another WebLogic Platform system (or worse, on a platform from a competing vendor) needing access to SAP will need to solve the “integration” or “adaptation” problem anew.
Locked-Up Assets = Locked-Up Value If Web services are a better path in to the platforms creating business systems that deliver business value, where will these Web services come from? Clearly they must come primarily from existing enterprise software systems – from the order management systems, ERP applications, credit rating systems, CRM applications, custom legacy systems and other software applications that comprise the systems of record for the enterprise. These are the enterprise systems that hold the processes and information that matter. Directly or indirectly, these systems will deliver the Web services that feed the platforms on which new business systems and processes are brought to life.
The HR Portal example above is actually a customer case study from a large discount brokerage house. Their objective was to build an easy-to-use HR self-service portal that would facilitate activities such as the direct update of contact information, benefit plan elections, and filing of performance reviews by employees. Successful implementation of this project would result in lower costs for HR clerical staff and better utilization of limited HR professional staffing. Employees would benefit from the ability to take care of their needs simply, directly and on their own schedule. Building this portal required the ability to access and manipulate the existing store of employee information
In this case, the application holding employee information was a PeopleSoft system. The PeopleSoft implementation was two years old, lacked Web services interfaces and was not scheduled for an upgrade. As a result of these factors, this asset was effectively “locked up.”
But even to begin the portal project required access to the PeopleSoft system. The customer considered a number of options – hand coding a connection to PeopleSoft through native PeopleSoft proprietary APIs; purchasing a PeopleSoft “adapter” for the portal platform and the systems integration engagement required to customize and deploy it on their PeopleSoft implementation; and purchasing an EAI platform with a PeopleSoft adapter to deploy in front of the portal platform.
Each of these options was rejected as too costly, complex, time consuming and limiting to future growth. The costs exceeded the expected benefits – and the project failed to clear the ROI hurdle.
As a result, the customer shelved the project. The portal was not built and the opportunity to realize its associated business benefits was lost for more than a year.
Actional SOAPswitch: Shrinking the Application Backlog Actional SOAPswitch made it possible for the company to pull the project off the shelf, complete it quickly, and enjoy an order of magnitude costs savings over the next-best previously evaluated alternative. Actional SOAPswitch is an adaptation tool that quickly “unlocks” legacy software assets (those without Web services interfaces) as collections of reusable Web services. It does this without any change to the in-place software system, without any coding.
The entire process is accomplished through a wizard-driven, browser-based interface as shown below. By automating the process of turning key business systems into collections of Web services, SOAPswitch immediately “brings forward,” to the platforms and applications where new business systems are created, the most essential enterprise processes, information and capabilities.
“We’ve had an employee self-service application on the shelf for a year, access to Peoplesoft was the show stopper.” 1. Install SOAPswitch. 2. Point to the Peoplesoft System (provide IP address and login to an in-place Peoplesoft system) – no modification required. 3. “Add a Web Service” via a simple 8-step SOAPswitch wizard. 4. Open Portal Application, retrieve WSDL from SOAPswitch and build from there. 5. ELAPSED TIME – 30 minutes.
After installing SOAPswitch, the customer was able to demonstrate, within 30 minutes, end-to-end calls to PeopleSoft from their portal application – all through Web services exposed by SOAPswitch brokering interaction with the unmodified back-end PeopleSoft system. The entire project was completed in less than two weeks.
Beyond the immediate benefit, there is a substantial residual benefit with this approach. Future projects requiring access to PeopleSoft can leverage the same Web services. SOAPswitch “unlocks” an asset one time, enabling unlimited leverage of that asset via Web services standards. The marginal cost of “integration” for each new business system requiring access to PeopleSoft is zero.
About Actional SOAPswitch: Award Winning, Customer Proven SOAPswitch provides native support for a wide-variety of applications – packaged, custom and
legacy – including:
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?? J2EE – IBM WebSphere, BEA WebLogic
SOAPswitch was recently awarded Web Services Journal’s World Class Product Award following a comprehensive product review in the September 2002 issue.
“Actional SOAPswitch represents a new product class that views Web service integration from a network perspective,” said Joe Mitchko, Product Review Editor of Web Services Journal. “SOAPswitch can take the various systems in your legacy environment and expose the various application interfaces under a common Web service substrate – the first step in achieving more advanced Web services for your enterprise.” SOAPswitch is currently in deployment across a wide variety of customer environments and plays a vital role in the platform solutions from Actional partners including Microsoft, SAP, Intershop,
Intalio and Commerce One.
About Actional Corporation
Actional Corporation is an emerging leader in Web services management solutions. Actional provides enterprise solutions that unlock existing software assets for Web services and manage Web services distribution. Actional is a privately held company headquartered in Mountain View California, with offices across the US, Canada and Europe. More than 100 of the Global 2000 including Sabre, Reliant Energy and Swisscom use Actional’s products in their mission-critical infrastructure. Actional’s strategic partners include Microsoft, SAP and Oracle.
For more information about Actional SOAPswitch, please contact Actional at 800-808-2271 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also visit our Web site at www.actional.com.