John Dix: Bowstreet puts the oomph in Web services

If ever there was a company that was in the right place at the right time, it’s Bowstreet Software Inc. It has been talking about business webs since it was founded in 1998 and, if you translate that into today’s nomenclature, that means Web services.

As the computing industry turns en masse to the concept of developing applications using components cobbled together over the network, Bowstreet finds itself in a nice place: out front with a lot of experience and a sophisticated product.

“Web services feels like client/server did in 1991,” says Frank Moss, Bowstreet’s chairman and co-founder. “Little has been adopted yet, but all computing is going this way.”

The problem, Moss says, is that the industry is only going half way. Users can gain some benefit pulling together applications from components available through portal servers, but the resulting applications are still hard-wired. “The end products still look very much like old-fashioned applications,” Moss says. “It’s like pouring the wet cement of hard-coded applications all over Web services.”

While this approach is OK for simple Web functions, he argues that 80 per cent of the cost of robust Web applications, such as collaborative supply chains, is in maintenance and updating. “The front office wants you to change this, modify that to meet the demands of external constituents, and with the portal approach the change requires programmer intervention,” he says. That slows the pace of change and ratchets up costs.

Bowstreet’s Business Web Factory gets around this by letting line-of-business folks tweak applications. How? Instead of using Web services to build hard-coded applications, developers program to a model, and a capture process records what they do. This creates so-called “Builder” components that are then used to assemble applications on the fly. Builders can be modified by business managers using templates, sidestepping the need for reprogramming.

Bowstreet calls this Web services automation.

To whet customers’ appetites, the company recently announced a deal where, for US$75,000, it will prioritize a customers’ Web application backlog, do an analysis of one or two applications, and build a sample application with the customer’s developers, training them by doing – and all of this in three weeks.

Moss says of this sales approach: “The world of big enterprise software architectures that cost $3 million and take nine months to sell and requires insiders to shop it all around the company are gone, just gone.”

Dix is editor in chief for Network World (U.S.). He can be reached at [email protected].

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