Web services next big thing: Borland

The most exciting thing about technology today isn’t its ability to allow people to talk to people, or even for people to talk to computers; it’s the ability to allow computers to talk to each other, says the chief strategist at Borland Software.

That’s why Web services is going to be the next big buzz phrase in the world of technology, said Ted Shelton, vice-president and chief strategist at Markham, Ont.-based Borland at a meeting Wednesday in Toronto.

“Web service is the way that the industry as a whole has agreed that company software has to be able to talk to each other,” he said. “The problem with standards (in companies) is that everyone has a different way of doing it.”

Borland, which a couple of years ago was voted one of the least likely companies to see the millennium by one industry group, launched its Java developer Jbuilder 6 just two weeks ago as part of its strategy to help increase developer productivity.

“There are two million developers today using the Java language,” Shelton said. “According to IDC, that is growing at 40 per cent annually, so there is enormous growth. Virtually every college student walking out has Java.”

Because of that statistic, it will take time for the Microsoft .Net enablers to catch up with Java, he added. “Microsoft sees students walking out has Java, and it is beginning to work with universities to teach the .Net framework, but it will take them time,” he said. “Java, we believe, will continue to be the more robust and more successful product for enterprises until 2004 or 2005 and that’s when we think it will be an even split.”

However, if a company is entirely in the .Net camp or entirely in the Java camp presently, the conflict between these two sides can seem daunting, Shelton said. “Our belief is that these are going to have to coexist,” he explained. “A recent Gartner study suggests that as much as 48 per cent of all projects in enterprises are going to have to make use of both Java and .Net.”

Alister Sutherland, software strategic acquisition consultant at IDC Canada in Toronto, agrees and said that the trend of getting an interoperable system has been growing for some time.

“It is certainly not naive because that is what has been happening for the last little while,” he said of Borland’s strategy. “When we first started looking at the Internet and its business applications, what you are really talking about is the Web-enabling of business processes. That might sound like a nice, neat and tidy concept, but in fact it’s a very complex thing because there are so many different systems that are in resident in an organization that don’t currently work together.”

Shelton explained that he sees Web service as an “inflection point on how corporations are going to build their information systems.”

“You can’t build a system and say that everyone who wants to talk to me has to do it my way,” he said. “There was a day when companies could build technology in a homogenous way and save costs and know that things were going to work in a standardized way. In the world we live in today, every day we wake up we could find ourselves communicating with a new set of systems.”

And, according to Sutherland, businesses really don’t have much of a choice but to participate. “It is at some levels an issue of competitiveness, but if you sit at the table, the cost of not doing it is greater than the cost of doing,” he said. “That is going to be the driver. I think that needs to be proven on a case-by-case basis, but in fact that is for the most part, the case.”

Stephen Pollock, vice-president of research and development at Markham, Ont.-based InSystems, which provides e-business solutions for document automation and extended relationship management, said his company didn’t even sit down and decide to do Web service – it just evolved.

“With our new relationship management solution, you have got an agent that works for a broker that sells different service plans through a carrier to an employer,” Pollack explained. “The employer uses the plan to service their employees. We have got to provide an application that simultaneously provides service to all these players.”

That leads to “tremendously complex scenarios,” Pollock continued – scenarios that lend well to Web services models.

“We had architected our solutions to be 100 per cent compatible with the way Web services have gone,” he said. “That means that if you have an enterprise Java that supports each function as a simple command response thing and you talk to these things through messaging. The thing I would be looking for from Borland would be to give us a tool where you could just press a button and that would pop up.”

Borland Canada in Markham, Ont., is at http://www.borland.ca/

InSystems in Markham, Ont., is at http://www.insystems.com

IDC Canada in Toronto is at http://www.idc.ca