The Importance of Web Services

You’ve likely noticed that vendors are increasingly touting the wonders of Web Services or other associated technologies such as SOAP, XML, WSDL, etc… And it’s with good reason.

I really feel that this is an important feature to keep in mind when purchasing new business systems. This is especially true for earlier-stage companies that expect to grow in the near future.

Today’s article isn’t intended to be a technical overview of how Web Services works. I’ll save that for a future post.

Instead, I just want to devote this post to telling you why your company should be concerned about Web Services, and what this new technology can do for you and your company.

When you first start growing your company, you’ll probably implement a number of independent systems that are designed with very specific functions in mind:

  • Accounting
  • Invoicing
  • Marketing Automation
  • CRM
  • Etc…

And this is great. These programs work “out of the box” and start benefiting your company immediately. You get proper tool for each job.

But over time, your staff, product line and customer base will all grow.

When this happens, the act of sharing and processing information becomes more cumbersome. Employees have to switch between applications, re-enter data multiple times, and spend more time searching for key data. This leads to less productivity, higher costs, mistakes, and reduced overall customer satisfaction.

When a company gets to this size, they would normally hire developers to create custom patches and tools to help make these processes more efficient. But this could be very costly since each of these legacy applications were written by different companies.

  • If these legacy applications weren’t open-source, it would be impossible to alter the code for your purposes.
  • Even if the applications are open-source, each system is written in a different language (PHP, C++, COBOL, Visual Basic, etc…)
  • All of them might run on different operating systems (Windows, Mac, Linux, iSeries, etc…)
  • All of them store data in different formats (SQL, Access DB, Flat Files, Spreadsheets, etc…)

It’s easy to see how custom coding can get very expensive in these scenarios.

With Web Services, each application must adhere to a set of standardized protocols for sharing and accessing data. This way, 2 programs can speak to each other, regardless of operating system, database or programming language compatibility. Instead, everyone agrees on a set of rules by which these interactions will take place.

This is important for young businesses, because it means that you can reap all of the productivity benefits today and still leverage the capabilities of these applications as you grow.

When your internal processes change, you can easily develop custom tools at a very low cost. And because you can keep using these applications longer, you delay the cost and headache of having to migrate your data to a new system.
But here’s where I see the REAL value of Web Services…

I personally believe that phone support is a dying beast. Right now, your customers expect a 24/7 self-service portal from their cable companies, phone companies, web hosts, and just about every other service offered by large companies.

And I personally believe that, within the near future, clients are going to start demanding self-service consoles from even smaller companies. Organizations that fail to meet this demand on time will lose business.

From your client’s perspective, it’s really a no-brainer. Why pick a provider that expects you to call a 1-800 number between 9 and 5, when their competitor makes fast, accurate service available 24/7… without having to wait on hold or argue with anyone?

From a strategic perspective, this is a HUGE trend. And by picking solutions with web-services, you can create and implement customer-facing service consoles quickly and inexpensively using data feeds from your off-the-shelf software systems.

Those are just a few of the key business benefits that I see driving Web Services.