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Technology providers who snooze on web services risk losing their credit union clients.

That's according to Baxter CU, which aims to have 90% of its B2B applications communicating with back-end systems via web services in the next few years, according to Jeff Johnson, VP-IS, and Tim Tibbals, director of applications development at the $958-million CU.

"In the credit union space, Baxter is not the first to have the idea of moving to web services, but we seem to be the most aggressive in working with credit union-centric business partners at pushing the adoption of web services," Johnson said.

Baxter started "actively thinking" about using the open programming method one year ago, he said. The 19-branch CU plans to move 50% of its applications to a web services interface before the end of the year, he said.

As word spreads that web services are the fastest way to connect systems with disparate architectures from multiple providers, credit unions will begin to look towards providers enabling a web services interface-whether or not the provider caters to CUs, Johnson continued.

"Thus it is in the best interest of credit union-centric providers to ramp-up their web services offerings as soon as possible," he added. "We'd like to see a much more aggressive movement by providers to offer their services via a Web service."

The web services programming method is the current buzz in the distributed technologies industry, even though only about 5% of U.S. enterprises had implemented web services projects by the end of 2002, according to IDC, an international IT research firm in Framingham, Mass.

"The industry in general has not embraced the concept yet," Johnson agreed.

Yet IDC predicts that Web services will be the dominant distributed computing architecture by 2008, with worldwide spending on associated software reaching $11 billion.

Running on a combination of XML, SOAP, WSDL and UDDI open standards over an Internet protocol, web services allows Baxter CU to quickly integrate its business computing processes with applications from third-party business partners.

"Application development time with our partners that have web services available has been cut by 50%," compared to those partners without web services, Tibbals said. "With web services, we can deploy much more quickly."

In addition, web services provide tellers and members alike with real-time data rather than data delivered in batches.

"The real benefit for front-line people is that they're seeing information as of this minute," Tibbals said.

BCU's first web services project fed data from a third-party credit card provider, including statements, rewards and account comments, into the CU's core processing system.

"We had a lot of demand internally to better integrate our credit card information in real-time with the rest of the member information on our core processing system," explained Tibbals.

"The web services interface has enabled BCU to provide real-time information on credit cards to our front line employees," he continued.

"The Web services interface has been a convenient and time-saving solution for both BCU members and the member service representatives," said Andrew Vostatek, Member Relations Supervisor at BCU. "BCU's member service team can now direct members to iTeller, our third-party internet banking system, which promptly provides real-time, credit card information."

"Near-term goals include delivering integrated real-time information directly to our members through iTeller," Tibbals added. "Though this information is currently available to our members, it is cumbersome to use since it's through a separate web interface. Completely integrating the web service into our homebanking product will provide a more consistent look and feel to our member's data without the member realizing it's not housed in BCU's internal systems."

BCU is building the interface to CUNA Mutual's web services for the mechanical repair coverage product. As CUs migrate to web services, the first question to ask is "Can the vendor provide the interface?" said Tibbals. "And the credit union will also need the development skills to integrate those services."

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