A recent survey has indicated that Web services are gaining in both understanding and popularity, in spite of known problems that still exist with the emerging technology. Web services is the name given to network-based applications that can interact automatically with others using Internet standards, such as XML and simple object access protocol (SOAP). The survey established that, while 30 percent of respondents felt that the technology was disruptive, in that it is likely to significantly change the way that people and systems operate, 79 percent replied that their organizations are likely to use Web services during the next year.

The survey was carried out on behalf of Systinet, a provider of Web services infrastructure software and the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA). Approximately three-quarters of respondents agreed that Web services can deliver business value today, principally by easing the difficulties associated with application integration. Around 30 percent claimed to have live deployments of Web services within their companies today, and more than 40 percent were in the throes of a pilot deployment. These numbers seem extremely high, but the survey population is perhaps biased, being made up of Systinet contacts and prospects, SIIA members and the ComputerWorld magazine Web site. Such a population is more likely to be active in the use of emerging technologies.

In spite of justified concerns over security, which is still not yet fully addressed by the relevant standards, a surprising number (30 percent) of respondents stated that over the next year they intend to connect to third- party services outside the firewall. Another 25 percent indicated that business-to-business integration is also in the cards for the short-term future. Given that the current received wisdom is that Web services are more likely to be used for internal integration this implies that the Web services standards are already fulfilling many of the requirements that users will seek.

Just under 25 percent of the survey respondents stated that they plan to create new Web services applications, and another 25 percent intend to create a network of Web services. While the early discussions around Web services implied that many new applications would be created, particularly in the area of consumer services, this survey does not seem to back this up. Less than 25 percent plan to create and coordinate public Web services, and a similar number intend to create new service architectures. Both ventures would be significant undertakings, and it is not surprising that these figures are low.

The finding that three out of four respondents think that the real value of Web services is in facilitating integration concurs with some of the conclusions of the newly published Butler Group report on enterprise application integration and Web services. Significant numbers of those surveyed stated that they were SOAP-enabling or integrating existing applications. This implies that many people believe, along with Butler Group, that Web services is a significant technology that will, over time, have an impact on the ability of applications to be integrated with one another. Integration has so far been one of those areas that are more talked about than carried out – Web services may provide a route for the delivery of genuinely integrated business applications.

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