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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.

About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.

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