Distributor Ideal Hardware is one company evaluating numerous web services projects, hoping that they will make it easier to do business.
Karl Harris, head of e-business at Ideal, said: "We are evaluating web services for our resellers. For instance, resellers could subscribe to a web service that would give them access to our price and availability lists.
"We are also in talks with vendors about creating web services that would make validating software licences quicker. Anything that makes doing business faster and less painful is a good thing."
Whether or not web services is a suitable enterprise-level technology has less to do with the technology than with what you are planning to with it. The basic tools of web services are tagging, listing and transport.
It is what you use them for that allocates risk. Because of the technology's flexibility, projects can be as big or small as a business chooses, which is why they have to be sure they can secure the information or service that they are exposing to others.
Ian Hendry, director of European operations at Entegrity Solutions, said: "Most organisations have infrastructure security licked, but application security is the interesting part of this market.
"It is all about letting the good guys in, giving them access to your applications and making it easier for them to do business with you.
"To do that, you have to have a consistent way of managing access. The customer should be able to seamlessly move between your applications, but you have to make sure that adding web services does not add massive overheads and complexity to the management scenario."
One reason why everyone is positive about the future of web services, apart from the business need, is that there is an unusual level of co-operation between companies that are usually out for each others' blood and customers.
The focus of much of this co-operation has arrived in the shape of the Web Services Interoperability Organisation, run and supported by most of the big players.
Phil Cross, developer marketing manager at Microsoft, said: "I can't think of any industry so far that has such unified support from most of the vendors.
"The hype may have caused some customer confusion, and there is a still a job to do in telling customers what it's all about. That said, it is becoming clearer now, because there is this drive by the vendors to consolidate the standards and products."
Kevin Malone, software technical strategist at IBM, agreed, but explained that the honeymoon period is always easy. "A majority of different interest groups have got together to bring web services forward, but only the very basics have been defined," he said.
"It is similar to a transport system. We have agreed how the roads should be built but not exactly what is going to run on them. This kind of co-operation is easiest at the start. As the next stage approaches, vendors will start competing a lot more with each other."
Rob Hailstone, software infrastructure research director at analyst IDC, also pointed to potential problems ahead. "The standards are doing pretty well now, but it is vital they keep moving quickly," he said.
"The aim of web services is application-to-application interoperability, and right now the only danger is that the big guns have their own strategies. There is the possibility that the marketing clout of Microsoft, for example, makes people hear .Net and think that is what web services are. That will be just heading down the proprietary route again."
As those products arrive it will be the job of the channel to generate real business, creating a big opportunity for those already involved in software consultancy and solutions. "The channel has an important role in telling companies what web services can do for their business," said Hailstone.
Hendry added: "The whole raison d'être of web services is to allow multi-vendor products to interoperate, which makes it a tremendous opportunity for the channel. The classic value-add situation will be great because no one vendor knows enough about other vendors' offerings to do it all.
"That said, the channel does not know enough about web services at the moment. The market is still very young, but it is a start for resellers to know when each standard is ratified and what new products support them."
This market will move much faster than others because most businesses could do with some form of web service facility. And, there is real money to be made.
Once the number of real-life examples become as common as the 'what-if' scenarios, the gold rush will get underway. Judging by the speed at which the market is moving now, next year looks like a good bet for web services to join the mainstream.
Entegrity Solutions (01344) 782 950
IBM (02392) 561 000
IDC (020) 8987 7100
Ideal Hardware (020) 8286 5000
Microsoft (0870) 601 0100
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