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Enterprises take early lead in Web services integration projects

By Carol Sliwa
June 16, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - It's not hard to find companies that have dipped their toes into the water to explore how Web services might help address some of their nagging integration problems. But few have launched major initiatives of the scope at Eastman Chemical Co. and Merrill Lynch & Co.
One of the distinguishing characteristics that separates these early adopters from the mere dabblers is the systematic approach they take to building the sort of service-oriented development architecture that experts say they'll need to realize the full benefits of Web services. Some of the biggest challenges they've faced so far have been finding the right tools and establishing best practices without a well-established road map.
Eastman Chemical
Eastman Chemical, a Kingsport, Tenn.-based maker of chemicals, fibers and plastics, is plotting the rollout of a service-oriented architecture across key legacy systems to give users more visibility and control over their business processes.
To do that, the IT department is taking stock of all of the company's application servers (which run on AIX, Windows 2000 and Windows NT), assessing what the applications do, stripping off the user interfaces and exposing the application functions as services, says Carroll Pleasant, an associate analyst in Eastman's emerging digital technologies group.
"Once we're done, the [users] should be the ones deciding what the business processes will be, rather than having the applications determine the business process for them," he says.
Like a number of other companies, Eastman got started with Web services by focusing on a key project that would help its IT department learn about the new technology. Developers created a simple read-only Web service to give customers access to technical data in its product catalog.
The product catalog Web service, which went live about a year ago, eliminated the need for customers to screen-scrape data from Eastman's site or to download a monolithic catalog to spreadsheets. Customers instead can now go to the Web site and make a request that causes the system to send an XML-based message using SOAP over HTTP to Eastman's Saqqara Systems Inc. database. The latter then does the data retrieval and sends back the information via XML and SOAP.
With one successful project under its belt, Eastman's next big step was tackling an internal Web service it calls a management score card. The service lets the company's top 150 executives access financial, manufacturing and other data from several disparate internal and external systems for competitive analysis purposes.
Developers used Visual Basic 6.0 and Microsoft's SOAP tool kit to build the interfaces to its data warehouse and other back-end systems. Pleasant notes



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