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Book Excerpt: When to Use Web Services

By Anne Thomas Manes
August 16, 2004 12:00 PM ET
Knowing that it's difficult to find a single-vendor solution that would allow it to connect Excel with various UNIX-based systems, JPMorgan decided to use Web services. Web services permit the firm to use the right tool for each side of the equation. JPMorgan created a set of Web services using Systinet's Web Applications and Services Platform (WASP) to enable easy access to the legacy applications. Now the financial analysts can access these services from Excel using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) macros and the Microsoft SOAP Toolkit.

Unknown Client Environment

The next bell ringer is any situation in which you have little or no knowledge of or control over the client applications that will be used to access the service. Because Web services don't require a specific software environment, you don't need to worry about compatibility issues.

For example, Con-Way Transportation Services uses Web services to support electronic exchange of shipping data with its customers and business partners. Con-Way is a $2 billion transportation company based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. More than two-thirds of its customers are small to medium-sized businesses. Con-Way wanted to provide these customers with a mechanism that would support tight integration with Con-Way's transportation systems. The challenge was that these customers use a variety of transportation applications on a variety of deployment platforms. Con-Way realized that it didn't have the option of asking these customers to install a proprietary API with limited deployment options to support integrated Con-Way business transactions. Instead Con-Way developed a set of Web APIs using IBM WebSphere. These APIs support invoicing, bill of lading, order pickup, and sales management services. Customers can interface with these services through the Con-Way Web site or use the Web APIs to connect directly from their corporate application systems. The Web APIs support any type of client application-in-house applications as well as packaged applications.

Multichannel Client Formats

A third bell ringer is the need to support many types of client formats, such as browser clients, rich desktop clients, spreadsheets, wireless devices, interactive voice response (IVR) systems, and other business applications. A Web service returns its results in XML, and XML can be transformed into any number of formats to support different client formats.

For example, Wachovia uses Web services to support both browserbased clients and rich desktop clients for Einstein, its customer information system. Wachovia is a leading provider of financial services, with nine million U.S. customer households. Einstein is a GUI application that gives bank staff complete information about a customer, aggregating information from multiple backend systems. Some bank staff use a browser to access Einstein. Others require a richer desktop interface.


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