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Calculated Risks

Calculated Risks

Many companies are jumping in to Web services before standards emerge. Sure, there are risks. Here's how some early adopters are managing them.

Motorola has committed to the enterprisewide deployment of Web services, with the full knowledge and backing of Samir Desai, senior vice president and CIO.

Never mind that Web services is still an emerging set of communications protocols that most vendors do not fully support.

Never mind that the fulfilment of the Web services promise to simplify integration depends on standards that today are the subject of rancorous debate by competing vendors and standards organisations.

Never mind that if an enterprise such as Motorola bets on standards that are eventually abandoned, its dream of communicating cheaply and efficiently with customers and suppliers would turn into a nightmare of expensive changes and upgrades.

After two years of ever-expanding pilots at Motorola, the business benefits of converting hundreds of applications into Web services and updating the company's underlying IT architecture to support them are, according to Desai, obvious and irresistible.

"This is about increasing the throughput, agility and cost-effectiveness of IT," says Desai. "How many times should I code a credit card check? With Web services the answer is one. In the past no one really knew the answer, but it was a much, much larger number." Merely by automating standard transactions, Web services promises to save a huge amount of effort and money.

Desai and his team are in the midst of placing bets on a cadre of vendors to supply the platform and tools for a multimillion-dollar effort to develop and operate Web services, both internally and outside the firewall. And as Desai acknowledges, no matter the anticipated ROI, it's still a gamble.

If standards fail to evolve, then the whole effort is cast into doubt. "No Web services standards means no enterprise Web services. It's that important," Desai says. Adds Toby Redshaw, Motorola's corporate vice president of strategy, architecture and e-business: "If you back the wrong vendors and the market evolves past you, the vendors go out of business and the whole learning relationship, the whole [return on] investment sort of goes close to zero."

That's just one risk among many. But diverse companies are rolling out Web services in defiance of these and other risks, looking for early mover advantage, ROI projected in the millions, and huge cost savings over developing and deploying software in conventional ways. In a survey that the Cutter Consortium consultancy conducted earlier this year of 250 clients, 13 per cent said they were already using Web services for business-critical applications as of last January, while 54 per cent said they were developing or prototyping Web services applications.

Early adopters are betting that by investing in multiple standards, performing extra due diligence on vendors and keeping a long-term outlook, the effort will be worth it. Here's how three very different organisations - Motorola, the US Navy and Wells Fargo - are addressing five major risks of Web services in their deployment strategies.

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