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I've read there are developments in web services that will allow our legacy applications and systems to be accessible over the web to our business partners? True, or not there yet?

Jim Hutchins, Re:Member Data Systems

Indianapolis

This is a true statement if your legacy system has kept current with technology and supports SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) messages, which use XML. Web services simplify the web-programming model used in the past by enabling communication across different systems through industry standard protocols. The industry standard protocols expedite the development process of third-party interfaces, but must be supported by a legacy system. RDS clients can use web services to facilitate the transfer of data from any system, written in any language, running on any platform, to their core processing system. This ability provides expanded opportunities for credit unions to interface with third- party products, while achieving strong integration with the core software.

Zandy Reinshagen, Symitar Systems,

San Diego

Let me start by saying that in today's interconnected world, ANY system can be connected to ANY OTHER system- as long as both parties are willing to invest the time and money to make it work. And of course, the Internet provides a viable and widely accessible medium for this connectivity. Industry standards like XML make the work all the easier.

Having said that, I can't help but wonder what business partners you want connected to which systems. One example that comes to mind is single sign-on integration between a home banking package and a check printing company. We've developed interfaces to most of the major check printers such that when a member logs on to view their account, they can reorder checks directly from the check printer without having to rekey any information. Likewise, our SymConnect API allows virtually any third-party vendor to interface to our system. I'd be hard pressed, though, to come up with many instances when you'd actually want a business partner "accessing" your systems. This could raise some serious security issues.

John Schooler, USERS, Inc.

It is true that web services does offer some distinct advantages over older technologies for interfacing various systems. This primarily stems from the use of XML, which is far superior as compared with many earlier protocols in that the data becomes somewhat "self-describing." Also, Web Services defines a common framework for interface development.

While this makes the challenge of communicating between systems easier, it is far from a magic bullet. A number of previous initiatives have attempted to deliver the ultimate solution, but all have fallen far short of this lofty objective. Purely proprietary APIs have always been around to accomplish this function, and various initiatives such as EDI, OFX and IFX have all had limited success. The real test will be whether web services is widely adopted, and most importantly, whether system suppliers of all sorts can emerge a real set of standard messages to support financial services and other functions.

As for the Internet issue, web services can be deployed equally well over the Internet or within an Intranet, depending on the type of vendors that are interfacing.

Louis Hernandez, Jr., Open Solutions Inc.,

Glastonbury, Conn.

It is true that in the very near future web services will facilitate the integration of legacy systems to third party vendors. Platform providers, such as IBM, Microsoft and Sun, began integrating web services into their solutions over two years ago with the actual use of web services to communicate over the web just now starting to catch on.

However, this movement will continue to be a transitional technology that masks the inherent problems with legacy applications and systems being proprietary and not easily integrated with other applications. These web services will only be as good as the weakest link in the whole process, which is the core system to which they are linked. The best bet is to replace legacy technologies with an open platform that is designed to handle Web services architecture.

While web services do hold promise in simplifying system integration in the future, they are still just the latest in a series of methods used to work around the challenges that legacy applications and systems have in communicating with remote applications. Many of the bigger challenges of integrating these applications have more to do with the functional and operational aspects of the legacy system than with the methods used to communicate. Choosing an application platform which employs an open architecture that allows for timely enhancements and issue resolution mitigates many of these challenges and truly will take full advantage of the benefits of web services.

Tom Miles, ePSCU, Tampa, Fla.

While there is quite a bit of activity in this area, many organizations are just beginning to work on exposing legacy data to webservers via XML (Extensible Markup Language) documents.

And unfortunately, where XML protocols are concerned, we are still working with a set of emerging standards. So the short answer to the question is no, we are not there quite yet.

Still, there are promising standards being worked on at this time. Web Services Description Language (WSDL) is an XML format for describing network services as a set of endpoints operating on messages containing either document- oriented or procedure-oriented information. A standard like WSDL will allow organizations to publish the availability of legacy data services on the web and allow their business partners to easily connect to those services.

Today, however, most XML implementations are limited to internal organization access requirements and do not extend to business partners. Those that do extend to business partners are, many times, still based on a proprietary communication protocol that must be developed by business partners on a case-by-case basis. The adoption of standards will be necessary to take XML out of the proprietary, case by case project and bring it to a wide audience.

Steve Williams, Cornerstone Advisors,

Scottsdale, Ariz.

Web services is the latest way to describe the age-old lie in technology that someday very soon all our computers will talk to each other easily. While web services is no panacea, it is one of the most important new developments in technology in a long time. Across the industry, we see more and more vendors writing and publishing XML interfaces between their legacy and the outside world. Developers are also embracing various industry XML schemas. The upshot? Building interfaces between systems will become faster, cheaper and more reliable. Credit unions today need to develop a technology plan that outlines how their systems can come together more powerfully in a web services architecture. There's still a lot for this new technology to prove, but we are headed in the right direction.

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