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IoT
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Software // Enterprise Applications
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12/2/2004
06:05 PM
Tony Kontzer
Tony Kontzer
Features
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Apps To Die For

Companies developing service-oriented architectures may find the next transformative application

THE FUTURE OF SOFTWARE


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The Future Of Software homepage

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Ray Lane: What's In Store For Software Companies

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Industry In Flux

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Apps To Die For

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Industry Leaders Look To Software's Future

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What's The Next Killer App?

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Share The Load

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Get That Team Spirit

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In The Fast (Growth) Lane

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A Windows World?

When it comes to what the next killer application might be, there's good news and bad.

First the bad news: The next killer app is hard to find. There are lots of candidates but no clear winner. Often mentioned are existing tools such as search, speech recognition, and autonomic security that are being refined constantly, but for which the potential benefits already are pretty clear. "The punch line is that the next killer apps are going to be new ways of doing old things," says Dan'l Lewin, VP of .Net business development at Microsoft.

App Quest, pie chartNow the good news: The emerging software infrastructure known as service-oriented architecture is seen by researchers and IT executives alike as the foundation for a new generation of software components that, years from now, will top CIOs' lists of technologies they can't imagine living without. And that hints at an additional layer of benefits for IT execs: Those future components often will be developed from within IT departments, eliminating the licensing and quality issues that CIOs claim plague today's commercially available software products.

That means that companies out in front developing service-oriented architectures also may have a jump on building the next potentially transformative application component. Some will build components that solve universal business problems, but many more will simply and elegantly address processes specific to particular industries. For instance, a component that lets hotel guests check in from a taxi using their cell phones may be killer for the hotel industry, but it probably won't be of use to a tire manufacturer.

Conversely, an app that uses XML Web services to aggregate shipping options from DHL International, FedEx, and United Parcel Service might prove helpful for businesses across industries. The movement of parcels is a universal business need but not one that would be considered a core part of most businesses--much like payroll, for which most companies rely on third-party service providers. "The next killer app may very well come from a large global enterprise that provides a set of services that are pretty horizontal in nature but haven't been deemed to be a mission-critical competitive advantage," Lewin says.

Lethal Checklist, bar chartThe shipping scenario is an example of a concept sometimes referred to as mega-aggregation, which has been an area of focus for researchers at MIT's Sloan School of Management. Professors and graduate students there theorize that the ability of Web services to build applications that can pull data from a variety of sources becomes much more compelling if there's some kind of agreement about the terms being used, a concept they've dubbed semantic, or ontology-based, integration. In other words, if a Web-services component has specific instructions on the descriptive parameters it must conform to when grabbing data, it increases the likelihood of delivering useful information.

If a person were to ask a financial-services mega-aggregator about his or her net worth, that mega-aggregator might return information that conforms to several descriptions. One site might supply real-time data, another might only update information every two days, and a third might include speculative data based on expected stock fluctuations. "The semantics could be so fouled up that it causes problems in your life," says Michael Siegel, principal research scientist at MIT's Sloan School. But if the mega-aggregator approached the task with instructions to search for actual net worth at a point in time, it could specify that to its data sources, returning an accurate snapshot.

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