Techies tackle Web services

Techies tackle Web services

Australian software developers are embracing the Web services concept and many are on the road to deployment.

Web services can be loosely defined as modular e-business applications that enable programmatic interaction between any application across a network, regardless of its platform. While most of the focus on Web services has been vendor-driven, several Australian developers are leading the worldwide charge toward using the new protocols and standards.

Queensland-based software developer Mincom has been developing Web services for its Envoy buy-side e-procurement software, which enables users to automatically access Web catalogues and content across the Internet using the SOAP protocol. "The Web service involves a set of business rules that determines where it will look for content," said Mincom chief technology officer Peter Suchting. "It then brings the results back into the e-procurement system. So rather than getting content replicated inside your firewall, it enables you to retrieve the data from out on the Web."

Brisbane-based Qtech Business Systems is currently developing a Web-based capital planning/cost accounting system for the healthcare industry, based on Web services protocols. "The portability of it is the advantage," said Ricky McGowan, managing director of Qtech. "You get true independence of code - you can build an application and if need be move it to a different platform."

Sydney-based Microsoft development partner Superior Software for Windows (SSW) is also developing several Web services at present, one being a demonstration model and another a commercial application.

The demonstration model is a service for filling out suburb and postcode address forms on Web sites. While there are existing means of automating these processes, they generally involve the importation of large databases of postal address information that can become outdated in short periods of time. With SSW's Web service, the site can connect directly to the data stored at Australia Post, which is always online and up to date.

SSW is also putting the finishing touches to a commercial Web service that other software developers are likely to find very useful. It is a bug-tracking system that is designed to open up communication channels between developers and their customers.

But not all developers are convinced Web services, in its current form, will solve application integration issues. Tim Jordan, chief technology officer for Web developer Cortex e-Business, said he has engaged in a number of pilots but is yet to come up with a Web service that provides easier solutions than any existing means. According to Jordan, Web services will be of most benefit within organisations that want to expose some business logic across different applications. "Pretty soon we will start to see the technology move from hype-driven ideas to something you can actually use," he said.

What they said

Adam Cogan, Superior Software for Windows: "People are still trying to get their heads around Web services, which aren't necessarily technically difficult. It will be very interesting to see what good ideas come out of it."

Tim Jordan, Cortex eBusiness: "Web services will not solve all the application integration issues. It doesn't solve problems like security and asynchronicity just yet. It's a great idea, and we are keen to see it happen, but potentially I see it being overused. There's no use in using any technology for the sake of it being a buzzword."

Ricky McGowan, Qtech: "Web services are going to have a big impact on the way you talk to external data sources."

Peter Suchting, Mincom: "Web services provide us with an industry-standard way of doing things in a programmatic fashion. It isn't so much an amazing technological breakthrough as a standard business model that is an enabler to remove inefficiencies. We can now do things we couldn't easily do before."

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