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When Michael Liebow thinks about the future, he looks in a different direction.

When talking about tomorrow’s technology trends, some people focus on equipment like flat screens and mobile tech, while others see larger areas of intensity like security, privacy, and storage. When IBM’s Michael Liebow, vice president of Web services, thinks about the future, he looks in a different direction.

What do you think will be prevalent trends in the coming year, and beyond, in terms of technology in the corporate environment?

I’d have to say that Web services and service-oriented architecture (SOA) are going to be very exciting. It’s not surprising that they’re already on the rise, actually, because what we’ve learned over the last few years is that technology as a novelty doesn’t work. You get a hangover from it. For something to rise now it has to address a key priority of businesses, it has to be something that an organization will be willing to put money behind. It has to have some real business benefits.

Web services and SOA are able to offer all those things, and give companies greater levels of flexibility. Early deployments are working, and in those companies, they’re allowing information to be integrated horizontally across the enterprise. You can leverage data and access it in ways that you couldn’t before. That’s the appeal of the technology, and that’s why you’re going to hearing a lot more about it in the coming year.

Can you give an example of what Web services and SOA can do, at a nuts and bolts level?

Let’s say you have a call center, where people are accessing different information all the time, both at the time of transactions while they help customers, and during other business processes. You need to leverage the information from different systems in order to facilitate call center operations.

A good example is Visa. By using Web services, Visa developed a dispute resolution service that allowed them to integrate relevant information into banking call centers. So when you have an issue with a charge, the information about that dispute speeds from the call center to the merchant. That faster flow of information means the dispute can be resolved in one billing cycle. Visa estimated that in the first three months of using Web services, they saved $238 million.

How can implementation of Web services aid a company that doesn’t have a call center?

There are many examples of how it can be of benefit. If you use it in your supply chain, you’re able to inform various parties to changes quickly. For example, if there are changes to orders or decreases in warehouse levels. Web services architectures give better visibility to supply chain processes, and that results in quicker turnarounds. And that results in money saved.

Where does SOA fit into the picture?

Up until now, a lot of organizations have been adopting technology that their developers love to play with. These are the guys that are up at midnight, coding and doing open source. They’re like hammers looking for a nail when you hand them technology; it’s great. The next step up from that is service-oriented integration, which starts with the business unit saying it has a pain point, in the same way that Visa saw that it had a particular challenge and wanted a particular solution.

With SOA, you have more control. There isn’t a mass of developers using whatever tool sets please them, and not coding to a standard that’s set within the business. Instead, with SOA, an organization can look at a problem holistically and develop enterprise-wide SOA that encapsulates a business-oriented infrastructure. It’s like a highway system. If everyone has a car, that’s good, but you also need to build highways if you want to get anywhere. SOA builds highways.

What are the challenges in getting SOA to be more widely adopted?

I think that for some IT departments and lead technology architects, this is a significant shift outside their comfort zone. But that happens with any shift. We went from client server to network oriented architecture, and now we’re shifting to SOA. The next stop on the train is to get standards-based SOA.

Why do you think these shifts are important? Why should companies be looking to move toward implementing these architectures?

Because it will enable business to move faster. Think about it: the next time the government gives you a new set of recommendations, or regulations, you can integrate it into your system that day, rather than in weeks. Something like Sarbanes-Oxley wouldn’t throw you for a loop because you can just put it into your architecture and have it done. That has a tremendous impact, because organizations that can go through change easily, and has tools in place to keep doing it easily, will be better able to handle anything that comes their way.

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