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3/10/2006
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Web Services By The Dozen

The buying and selling of Web services is in its infancy, but StrikeIron provides customers with a range of hosted services and content databases

Very late last year, eDiets.com, an online provider of nutrition and diet information, decided to expand into providing packaged meals to dieters. Its goal was to make the service, complete with online ordering, available by Dec. 31, the day many people are thinking about New Year's resolutions and vowing to lose weight.

CTO Tom Wicorek managed to get the system up and running by Dec. 31, offering would-be dieters a week's supply of the foods they chose online. But the actual shipping of the meals to the right address proved to be more difficult than anticipated and could have thrown the project off schedule.

"It would have taken us several weeks--at least a month--to build an address-verification system," Wicorek recalls. Verifying an address is critical when shipping food in refrigerated containers. The system had to ensure that when an order left the loading dock, it was headed for the right destination. Delivery mix-ups mean spoiled food, lost revenue, and dissatisfied customers. EDiets has avoided those pitfalls, even though erroneous addresses are one of the most common problems for online businesses. Instead of building an address-verification system itself, the company turned to StrikeIron.com, an online marketplace of Web services.

Inevitable Expansion

Ever since the Web became a reality, it's been assumed that someday Web services would form a universal platform for business interactions. But only a few companies, such as eBay and Amazon.com, have been able to make that happen. Both extend their internal business services, such as online auctions or bookselling, to external partners through Web-based APIs.

StrikeIron is one of the first companies to assemble Web services and make them available through an online marketplace for general use. The startup, which launched its StrikeIron Web Services Marketplace in September, looks like the first of many online Web services markets where IT managers will shop for what they need to assemble composite applications. Such apps can be made up of dozens of outside services coordinated by the company's homegrown, core business logic.

StrikeIron started out building Web services but quickly learned that its ability to publish, track, and bill for Web services was attracting business partners that lacked that infrastructure. It offers about 70 Web services, 25 of which it created itself, and business partners provide the rest. They include services for commerce, finance, sales, and human resource management, as well as services for vertical markets such as government. Among the offered commerce Web services are sales-tax calculation, credit card fraud detection, contractor bid communication, and multiple forms of address verification--all of which can be used by any business that's willing to pay a fee to assemble the services they need for an application.

StrikeIron also has teamed with Salesforce.com to offer Web services that can be added to Salesforce's on-demand apps for sales force automation via the CRM vendor's AppExchange service. For example, Salesforce customers can add data cleansing, address-verification, and business demographic information to their existing applications.

"We knew the concept of Web services or standard Web interfaces was coming," says Bob Brauer, StrikeIron's president and CEO. It quickly became apparent that the value in what the company was doing was in the services infrastructure, the ability to get services out to users, tracking transactions, and the company's billing mechanism, he says.



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