Blueprint emerging for user-facing Web services

Momentum is quietly gathering behind a prospective standard for defining how Web services will find their way into the hands of business users.

At this week’s Web Services Edge 2001 West show, in Santa Clara, Calif., OASIS (Organization for the Advancement for Structured Information Standards) announced the formation of a technical committee for the WSCM (Web Services Component Model). Influential vendors, such as IBM Corp., Epicentric Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), and Documentum Inc. have thrown their weight behind it.

WSCM aims to foster the development of business user-facing Web services by defining a set of XML (Extensible Markup Language) vocabularies and Web services interfaces that allow vendors to deliver Web applications to end-users, according to Charles Wiecha, OASIS WSCM technical committee chair and IBM research manager.

“We are looking at the last mile of the Web services model to…build a component model that will separate out aspects of the end-user issue,” he said. The goal of the committee is to “build an integrated end-user experience” for Web services, Wiecha said.

According to analyst Tyler McDaniel, director at The Hurwitz Group, in Framingham, Mass., although Web services are in a nascent stage, there is a strong need to commence standards work pertaining to the point of interaction with business users.

“We’ve been focusing on the underlying delivery mechanisms of Web services. As Web services mature, the key issue is moving it from a machine-to-machine world into Web services for business users, so users are interacting with services in an easy fashion and a standardized way and so it can be supported by IT,” McDaniel said. “WSCM It is a very good way to move forward on this.”

The committee’s development work will be particularly important for the enterprise information portal market, in terms of integrating Web services and other applications for end-user consumption, IBM’s Wiecha said.

“Today’s portal technology is not very integrated. [Portal information views] are side-by-side tiles on the screen,” he said. “This is next-generation technology to make the experience much more integrated.”

IBM said it intends to contribute to the WSCM committee its work in the Web Services Experience Language, a component model for interactive Web applications.

Initial members of the OASIS WSCM Technical Committee include IBM, Epicentric, Hewlett-Packard, DataChannel, Documentum, Macromedia, Sterling Commerce, Cyclone Commerce, Logistics Management Institute, Republica, and U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency.

San Francisco-based portal player Epicentric, which has been driving the development of a similar specification, dubbed Web Services User Interface, said it will submit its technical efforts over to the WSCM standards push.

“We feel this is a major milestone for proving app interoperability at a user presentation level,” said Ed Anuff, chief strategy officer at Epicentric. “A Web service up until now using SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol] and WSDL [Web Services Description Language] has had no presentational aspect to it. With component model Web services you can provide a complete user interface for an end-user involved in that which can be dynamically plugged into a portal without development efforts.”

As the WSCM committee moves further along with a technical specification, the movement is likely to draw support from a wide array of vendors that are rushing to stake territory in the emerging Web services model, according to Wiecha.

“The idea of extending Web services infrastructure to additional areas, like the end-user experience, will be interesting for a lot of players,” Wiecha said.

The first meeting of the WSCM technical committee will be held in January when the group plans to lay out milestones for specification efforts and other technical goals toward standard completion.