Distributor has high hopes for Web services
XML standardization is not solving all the problems in e-procurement, said
Charles Ewen, e-business development manager for Premier Farnell, a Devon,
England-based distributor of electronic components. But he does expect that Web
services can eventually resolve many of the issues his company faces in setting
up electronic transactions with customers.
''Web services potentially offers the supplier and the customer big benefits
in a group of standards with which they can build more generic solutions, which
are more widely usable,'' he said.
However, he does not find that to currently be the case even where XML data
is the standard.
''At the moment pretty much every procurement project that we get involved in
requires a different transport mechanism,'' he explained, ''a different
connection arrangement, a different set of XML DTDs, which the transactional
documents need to adhere to.''
The other problem is that software vendors are providing his global customers
with what Ewen characterizes as ''wildly different technologies'' to solve the
same e-business problems.
''We see huge numbers of different document formats,'' he explained. ''We see
huge numbers of different technical solutions to transport.''
WSDL and SOAP have the potential to standardize this process, and he is
beginning to implement limited Web services using the Orbix E2A Web Services
Integration Platform from IONA Technologies of Waltham, Mass.
He does point out that Web services applications built by his firm to date
have not matched the promises of some optimistic software suppliers.
''The kind of Web services you would see from us now are 'place order' Web
services and a 'check stock' Web service,'' he explained. ''We have a system
that will accept an inbound query into our Web service to say: 'Have you got any
of these?' And we can respond to that message in an agreed XML document format
saying: 'Yes, we've got those, and this is how many and this is how long it's
going to take to get them to you.'''
Down the road, the company may publish a public-facing UDDI, but at the
moment, Web services offerings are limited to companies that are also in the
early stages of deploying the technology. Ewen won't even hazard a guess as to
when Web services will empower e-procurement.
''I think we're fairly pragmatic about this,'' he said. ''We're not expecting
things to move on hugely and we don't expect to end up with a single set of
standards, but, at least, it gives us some shape for projects.''
In a specialized market where his company sells individual electronic
components to corporations developing new products and firms maintaining aging
hardware, Ewen views Web services in terms of the bottom line.
''We're in it to sell more resistors,'' he said. ''Am I going to sell more
resistors by doing this public UDDI? Probably not yet.''
For more information, click on www.premierfarnell.com and/or www.iona.com.
Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.