Hold On - Web Services Aren't Always The Right Answer - InformationWeek

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5/24/2002
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Hold On - Web Services Aren't Always The Right Answer

Web services may yet change the world ... or at least the Internet ... or perhaps only the process of software integration. Whatever you believe, it's clear that standards today are still far from the answer to all your integration needs.

That's what the automotive Web site FirstLook and its system integrator, Lante Corp., found when they wanted to feed data from multiple sources into the site. Web services help break down barriers between incompatible systems, but they still face the problem of any technology standard--both sides of a transaction need to use them. So until they're widely adopted, you can bet on a lot of halfway, kind-of-sort-of Web-services systems that do the job without fully committing to this emerging technology.

Last summer, FirstLook was launched as an Internet-based service to help car dealers determine which used cars bought at auction will bring the best price and move off their lots the fastest, based on sales and inventory data analyzed by a system built by Lante. In addition, car-rental companies, including Budget and National, and leasing companies such as Bank One, list for sale cars that dealers can buy through the site. A pilot of the service is available for dealers in the Baltimore-Washington area and in Houston, where it provides information to dealerships in the Auto Group chain. Though a startup, First Look had resources to build a first-rate infrastructure thanks to backing by Ryan Enterprises Group, the family-run investment firm of AON Corp. CEO Patrick Ryan.

Lante looked at using Web services to access the various information streams that fill the site. Information related to car inventory--makes, models, and options--comes in large, once-a-week batches of files that are still best handled through File Transfer Protocol over the Internet. A Web-services option--Soap with XML--might have been a better way to keep information streaming in from Black Book, the auto-research company that lists wholesale used-car prices based on auctions across the country and gives dealers a comparison point against FirstLook prices. But that wasn't a possibility because Black Book doesn't yet use Soap to share information. Instead, Lante adapted FirstLook's Java-based system to handle an XML stream from Black Book using a tool that parses the XML into Java data objects that are processed by the application.

The key still isn't to become too determined to force Web services as the integration solution if partners aren't ready for it, says Marv Richardson, Lante's chief technology officer. "The right approach is to say, 'What do I need to accomplish for the business, and what's the most effective way of accomplishing that?'"

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