CGI weighs in on Web services

At a recent Toronto luncheon, Montreal-based IT services firm CGI Inc. stepped up to the precipice and dove in with its predictions for what Web services will bring to the world.

Jamie Holland, director of consulting services at CGI, said Web services represent a fundamental shift in the way computer systems will be built in the future.

He called Web services a set of standards that offer a new way of building applications using XML and http. Holland also likened Web services to the application service provider (ASP) model, noting that while ASP is single service to one company, Web services will be many to many.

He predicted that as a result of Web services, organizations will start selling services outside their firewall. He also suggested that IT departments will become more entrepreneurial and sales oriented – moving from a cost department to a revenue-generating one.

“You can now imagine a company like AOL also being the largest bank in North America,” Holland said.

The three standards at the core of Web services are SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) for remote invocation; UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration Service) for directory; and WSDL (Web Service Description Language), which describes the format.

SOAP is the how, UDDI is the where and WSDL is the what, Holland said.

CGI is seeing clients and other organizations at the investigation stage. Holland said in the near future the industry will see people expose internal applications as Web services.

“That will shift to an architectural view and we will see a services business model. Then there will be more pervasive buying of services from other vendors – outside the firewall.”

Holland said all that movement will boil down to four phases: Investigating vendors, legacy integration, service-based models and pervasive computing.

Ross Marsden, CGI’s senior vice-president and general manager for the greater Toronto area, said that in just a few years when many companies are at phase four – those at phase one will be left completely behind.

“If others are at phase four and you’re not, well, then you’re just, not,” he said.

Marsden also noted privacy is a victim of IT. “Technology is an agent of convenience and that convenience is where we lose our privacy.”

Web services, Holland asserted will naturally lead to a single channel view. “One company might be partnered with three or four different firms, but it looks like it is managed by one vendor. It is actually services brought together and integrated into one offering.”

Security is one sticking point for Web services, and Holland predicted a services grid that would sit in the middle of systems, providing transaction control – security, messaging or whatever is needed.

Another trend Marsden predicted was that as Web services become more prominent, outsourcing will continue its rise, until the two eventually intersect.

Production, can you make this work?


Web Services Glossary

Web services: A standardized way of integrating Web-based applications using open standards such as XML, SOAP, WSDL and UDDI over an IP backbone.

XML: A specification developed by the World Wide Web Consortium to tag data.

SOAP: Provides a way for applications to communicate with one another over the Internet, independent of platform. SOAP relies on XML to define the format of the information and then adds the necessary HTTP headers to send it.

Web Services Description Language (WSDL): An XML-formatted language used to describe a Web service’s capabilities as collections of communication endpoints that can exchanging messages. WSDL, developed jointly by Microsoft and IBM, is the language used by UDDI.

UDDI: A Web-based distributed directory that enables businesses to list themselves on the Internet and discover one other, similar to a traditional phone book’s yellow and white pages.