2003: Year of B2B Web services?

The current ''tough economy'' will spur greater deployment of Web services for integration inside and outside the firewall, moves that will lead to a revival of much-maligned B2B efforts, predicts Jeff Tonkel in his first week as president and CEO of Infravio Inc.

Prior to accepting his new position this week with the Redwood City, Calif.-based provider of Web services management software and consulting services, Tonkel said he researched the marketplace to see where the opportunities were.

After talking to IT executives of Fortune 500 companies, he concluded: ''It's going to be a big year for Web services.''

It was no surprise that he found Web services for internal application integration to be ''the number one or number two priority in IT shops.'' But he also found what he believes is the beginning of real implementation of Web services to connect companies to their suppliers at one end and their customers at the other.

''Any company today is in the middle,'' Tonkel explained. ''Most companies of any size have numerous suppliers, and most companies of any size are a supplier to somebody else. So you have this requirement to communicate with your suppliers and you have your requirement to communicate with your customers.''

Noting that most large companies also have a need to integrate internal systems, he breaks Web services projects into three categories, all of which he believes will advance this year. ''There's three classes of integration,'' Tonkel explained. ''There's the integration with your suppliers. There's the integration with your customers. And there's the integration within your enterprise.''

Far from inhibiting these projects, the tough business economy is actually pushing them to the top of the IT priority list for 2003, he said, because all three categories promise increased productivity and decreased costs.

''It wouldn't be one of the top one or two priorities for IT if they didn't believe there was huge ROI,'' Tonkel said.

It has always been clear to business executives that they could save money by reducing swivel-chair steps -- faxing, telephoning, overnight mailing -- in a transaction, he said. But it was not that easy to automate those processes until the innovation of Web services technology, which Tonkel believes has matured to the point that it can make B2B work.

''There's one company we're working with now that wants to integrate with their customers,'' he explained. ''They want to be able to provide the B2B stuff that didn't evolve in the way that the market thought it was going to with the timing the market thought was going to happen. But there's huge demand for this kind of B2B integration. And Web services is very appropriate for that.''

In this still early stage of Web services adoption, Tonkel said, he does not expect Fortune 500 companies to all start major B2B integration projects. ''They're going to all start out small, but it's going to work,'' he predicted. ''It will evolve over time into larger and larger projects, much more service integration than what we've ever imagined.''

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About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.