Dollar Discovers New Uses, Along With A Few Skeptics - InformationWeek

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Dollar Discovers New Uses, Along With A Few Skeptics

When Peter Osbourne started using Web services in August 2000, he didn't realize how far he had traveled along the technology curve. Osbourne, group manager of advanced technology at Dollar Rent A Car Systems Inc., saw Web services as just a simpler way to connect partners to the company's reservation system. "Sometimes I have my head in the clouds and I don't know that everybody isn't doing what we're doing," he says.

Before Dollar started using Web services, tour operators had to rely on an EDI connection to book a car reservation electronically with the Tulsa, Okla., company. That was expensive and inflexible. Building an interface took as long as two months, and it had to be rewritten if the system on either side changed. Now, tour operators book reservations by sending a text message using HTTP protocols. The company's Microsoft BizTalk server parses that message using Soap and WSDL Web-services protocols unique to each operator to book the reservation. "You send text over HTTP, I can receive it," Osbourne says. "Simplicity, to me, is the key."

A major benefit for both Dollar and its partners is that Web services provide a direct way to make reservations without using a global distribution system such as Sabre Holdings Corp. or Galileo International, which charge a transaction fee. However, Web services have also made Dollar's relationship with Sabre more data-rich. Dollar built its rate engine, which calculates rates by class of car, on Web-services protocols, so Sabre can integrate that information directly into its systems. That means when a travel agent booking a flight on the Sabre system wants to add a car rental, the rate data is fed directly from the Dollar rate engine to Sabre.

Peter Osbourne

Dollar keeps finding uses for Web services, Osbourne says.
Dollar also uses Web services to make it easier for customers to connect to its Web site from Internet-enabled mobile devices. Osbourne says that using Mobile Internet Toolkit, a free Microsoft download to VisualStudio .Net, the Dollar IT team built an interface that senses what device is requesting a Web page and formats the page to best fit that device. Using Web services meant Dollar's IT team didn't have to write code for each device, because Web services provided a new interface to deliver the information. "We just keep finding more uses for Web services," Osbourne says.

Security is one of the biggest obstacles to expanding many companies' use of Web services. Dollar is concerned about the issue, Osbourne says, but it's solving the problem by exposing its Web-services reservations system only to known business partners operating from specific IP addresses.

Using Web services often dramatically speeds integration, but there still can be problems. And skepticism abounds about yet another new wunderkind technology. Osbourne himself had doubts when Dollar's Web-services apps were first installed and his team spent six weeks trying to resolve problems with the company's reservation system. The Web-services applications were presumed to be the culprit--until Osbourne's team found that a balky database and unrelated configuration problems were to blame.

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