Here's a dirty little software secret: Enterprise applications developed during the Internet bubble of just a few years ago often continued to suffer with the "one size fits all" mistakes borne by the previous generation. The client/server computing of the '90s often was criticized as expensive and hard to implement because it forced companies to change their business processes to fit the software. But when these applications became Web-enabled, essentially nothing changed. Inflexible and lacking customization, these Web 1.0 applications were conveniently marketed as compliant with business process "best practices." Yet customers were still forced to adapt their businesses to the software.
Enter service-oriented computing, the next-generation computing wave that until now has been mostly about system infrastructures and stand-alone applications sharing services with each other. Today, service-oriented computing has hit the application development world with a vengeance. Custom software development teams inside corporations and vendors alike are discovering tools and technologies that enable next-generation service-oriented business applications (SOBAs) that are completely adaptable to unique customer business models, processes and individually defined "best practices."
The "service" in SOBAs is short for "Web service." A Web service simply is a software function that can be accessed by another application over the Internet. Prior to Web services, applications tended to be monolithic. Reusing existing components was the exception more than the rule. This is because integrating remotely located applications was complex and involved proprietary interfaces. Developers had to spend hours digging into hundreds of pages of documentation, learning about protocols, agreeing on ways to communicate, and debugging code back and forth between application teams before they could get two programs to talk to one another. With Web services, all of this went away.
Now Web services have gone 2.0 as well. The new generation of Web services -- no longer defined as mere application-to-application "function calls" -- now enables the dynamic composition and decomposition of applications from reusable Web services according to changing business needs. Software vendors have found a way to monetize their Web services as stand-alone packaged products, delivering business-critical information aiding the rapid development of SOBAs.
Combining data flows with standardized components, these third-party Web services are easily procured and rapidly integrated into software applications and Web portals alike by new application orchestration tools that can consume them. Software developers can source accurate, reliable external data and components from multiple providers and mash them together for consumption by SOBAs driving critical business processes. Custom SOBAs are built and implemented quickly, and readily adapted to make mountains of reusable functionality available for a fraction of the traditional cost.
'Financially Aware' Business Processes
In few industries is this trend more evident than in financial services. In markets such as insurance and brokerage, every critical business process must be financially aware. As corporate applications or Web portals have aided the automation of these processes -- many of which touch customers as well as employees -- in recent years, the need to source accurate, current market data for integration has become an imperative for many financial institutions.
Traditional approaches and outdated delivery technologies produced undue cost and integration burdens. Third-party Web service providers in this sector have filled a void -- collecting, organizing and integrating financial information that previously was available only in raw or bulk form.