Magazine Article | May 1, 2003

Do You Do Web Services?

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Web services is a hot IT buzzword, but most people in the business world aren't sure what the term truly means.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, May 2003

Here's a definition for Web services: technologies that allow businesses to share information stored in their computer applications with other applications within the company, or with external applications run by customers and partners.

There are many processes necessary to keep a business running, and many of these are handled by separate systems. Consider just a few typical retail processes. A small clothing retailer, for instance, orders 200 shirts online from a supplier. The shirts are shipped, the order tracked, a bill sent to the customer, and the customer data is maintained in a CRM (customer relationship management) database.

Because these systems can't always talk to each other, companies must resort to phone calls and faxes to handle interaction with business partners or different parts of large organizations. It can easily take weeks or months for all processes associated with a single transaction to be completed. This delay can result in increased operational costs, poor customer service, and lost business opportunities.

Now imagine how that same clothing retailer's business could look if it had an e-business infrastructure based on Web services. Instead of needing phone calls and faxes to make transactions, a single transaction could automatically set off a series of other transactions, like a row of tumbling dominos. The goal of Web services is to reduce costs and improve business effectiveness by connecting and automating processes online.

There is one caveat: to increase the level of automation, businesses must have consistent descriptions of the software used to execute various parts of the transaction. For example, the company may be talking to internal inventory applications, suppliers, or companies that can ship the final product, but somehow all transactions must be combined to accomplish whatever task needs to occur. This process is called e-business integration.

Web Services In Action
Footwear and apparel manufacturer Vans has already begun to implement Web services. Vans' e-commerce system allowed it to take Web orders, but the company needed to change payment service partners to reduce operational costs and improve response times for online purchases. It was important to Vans that the company be able to integrate its existing applications with business partners' applications, regardless of technology platforms.

Vans also wanted to ensure adding or changing business partner services in the future could be accomplished easily, using universal interfaces independent of vendor-specific technology.

Vans selected Concord EFS as the payment processor of its e-commerce solution with the help of system integrator RyTE Consulting, Inc. Concord offers an XML (extensible markup language)-based Web services solution through its EFSnet product line.

The solution was built on IBM WebSphere Commerce Suite V5.4 running on WebSphere Application Server V4.0. Vans wanted to take advantage of Java technologies and WebSphere's improved performance along with its support of an open architecture.

Now, Vans processes payments via the Internet using XML and SOAP (simple object access protocol) to send payment orders to the Concord EFS application. Concord handles authorization and settlement of the purchase. After the initial processing, Concord EFS sends an order notification to Vans. Concord arranges for Vans to be paid and for the release of funds by the customer when the order is completed.

IBM's WebSphere Commerce Suite includes a Payment Manager component that utilizes payment cassettes to integrate external payment services, and IBM developed a specific payment manager cassette that supports the Web services interfaces offered by Concord EFS. The payment services interfaces are based on open Internet standards and are described using WSDL (Web services description language), enabling RyTE Consulting to quickly develop and deploy updates to Vans' solution to address critical changes in the marketplace.

Vans was able to deploy its solution rapidly in the midst of a changing business environment. It was also able to reuse existing application assets because the new software was based on open standards. The result: Vans improved responsiveness to consumers by reducing the turnaround time for online purchases and increasing efficiencies in its sales processes.