John Hagel: Don

Web services are being deployed today at a surprising pace. In fact, deployments might be underway already within your company without you knowing about it. Why?

Often, corporate executives lead these initiatives. They want to move quickly to solve a business problem and don’t want to attract a lot of attention from central IT. They worry that IT, concerned about the immaturity of the technology, will try to delay their efforts. So they fund undercover efforts to deploy the technology.

Want another worry? Based on a survey of early adopters, the majority of these deployments are at the edge of corporations, crossing firewalls to connect with business partners. These aren’t just harmless experiments behind the firewall. They support mission-critical business processes with either suppliers or distribution channels.

What should IT executives do? First, resist the temptation to find and punish the guilty. Instead, applaud the fact that business executives are grabbing on to a new technology and championing its deployment.

Next, inventory existing initiatives deploying Web services. Make them visible. Find out which initiatives need help and work to support them.

At the same time, discuss with senior business management the potential and limitations of this technology. Help to develop a more systematic approach to target the highest potential business opportunities. Design a migration plan for the broader technology architecture. Anticipate the networking implications of Web services. After all, this technology is built on a service model that assumes applications and data can be accessed anywhere. Yet, few companies have thought through how networks will need to evolve to support Web services. Build alignment within senior management around a coordinated game plan to harness the economic value of this technology.

As the plan comes together, work to deepen your Web services capability. Chances are, your company is still pretty thin in terms of Web services skills. Find third parties to help supplement your capabilities in the near term and fill in gaps as quickly as you can.

Champion the emergence of service grids to off-load a lot of the complexity and reduce the capability burden on your company. Service grids represent federations of shared enabling services that support the performance requirements of application services. They can offer specialized services in areas such as reliable messaging, performance monitoring, security, data translation and synchronization of services. Companies such as Grand Central Communications Inc., Commerce One Inc. and E2open LLC are beginning to address this need.

Adoption of Web services is accelerating. The horse is out of the barn. It might not be too late to build a fence around the pasture, but it is time to get out into the field and develop an action plan.

Hagel is a management consultant based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached via his Web site at