Web Services (WS) are a recent set of technologies that aim at implementing service-oriented IT architectures. Considerably hyped during the last number of years, they are expected to ease many current IT problems, such as growing complexity, and enable new levels of business agility. Although a lot of technical discussions and overlapping bottom-up development and specification activities are taking place at present, systematic WS assessment and approaches from a sound business viewpoint are rare. Thus, many organisations are still struggling to assess the real impact of WS and the accompanying opportunities and threats. Without an appropriate business alignment, WS might be perceived as a purely technical solution not delivering significant business benefits. This constitutes a potential risk factor in the light of recent views on IT benefits and current IT spending practice and could eventually hamper a wide adoption.
The complete thesis tries to mitigate this issue. It gives a concise description of the underlying ideas and constituting elements of WS and also describes their relationship to other IT concepts. The expected impact and benefits of WS applications are outlined and the stumbling blocks and risks associated with WS are described. Comprehensive classification schemes are proposed for both the benefits and issues. Predicted future WS adoption stages and their characteristics are outlined. The actual state of WS adoption is also determined and described by presenting recent survey results and the outcome of an own WS review. WS implementations are described and categorised according to identified major business drivers for WS application.
Based on this comprehensive characterisation of WS, the focus of the thesis is then put on developing a methodology for the assessment of WS through Business Process Modelling (BPM). A structured framework is proposed for selecting the most appropriate processes for WS applications. Following this, information domains and types are identified that need to be contained in a Business Process Model to support systematic WS assessments and facilitate WS deployment. This critical information is then mapped to its representation in a Business Process Model with appropriate BPM techniques offered by the ARIS Toolset, a widely used toolset for BPM. The conceptual possibilities are finally illustrated through an example in e-procurement.
The proposed methodology facilitates a business-oriented view on WS. Containing several checklists and adaptable scoring tables it allows executives and analysts to systematically identify WS opportunities and IT vendors to position their solutions.
The thesis concludes with a discussion of the discovered limited functionality of the modelling toolset and provides an outlook for further research in the area of using BPM to support Web Service applications for improving business processes.
This Masters Thesis provides resources to mitigate one of the currently perceived issues surrounding Web Service technology, the lack of business alignment. This was done in two steps. First, a compact characterisation of Web Services was presented. Second, Business Process Modelling was explored as a means of supporting the identification and assessment of opportunities offered through the introduction of Web Service technology.
With their support for loosely coupled processes Service-Oriented Architectures (SOA) respond to the current economic challenges of diverse technology platforms, distributed centres of control and the increase of dynamic business. They constitute a particular form of distributed computing following on from the client-server architectures and web application design principles. Technical interoperability and business flexibility, which SOAs promise to bring about, are enabled by its four essential inherent characteristics and principles, i.e. distributed character, loosely coupled interface design, technological neutrality as a foundation, and the process-centric perspective from which involved systems are perceived.
Web Services are a specific instantiation of a SOA. The Web Service technology proposes standard protocols and interfaces to realise the electronic services outlined in the SOA concept. As an evolutionary technology it also leverages principles from object orientation, component architectures, and web applications. At the same time Web Services are in several respects related to IT concepts such as ASP, EDI, and EAI. Web Services are expected to bring a large number of benefits , of both technical and business character, which can be structured into different domains, e.g. operational, managerial, strategic, infrastructure and organisational domain. Among the currently perceived Web Service business purposes that strive to achieve specific benefits are the reuse of existing assets, flexible integration, higher visibility into business operations, and the search for new business opportunities. These drivers are expected to eventually trigger Web Service technology’s adoption which is predicted to occur in overlapping phases. Starting as a purely technical interface Web Services will be recognised as a business capability in a following phase and then become business products with standardised functionality reaching higher levels until the ideal – pervasiveness and pure service-orientation - might finally be achieved during a last phase in more than five years time. However, although a high number of surveys have been conducted in the area, at present publicly known Web Service examples are rare. Consumers as well as vendors and analysts seem to be reluctant to reveal details of gathered knowledge about first projects. Still, decision makers need a broad view on the potential impact of Web Service both shaped by short-term and long-term opportunities before investing into new technology. Web Service issues can be found in the technical, financial and organisational domain. Being a technology-led paradigm the public discussion on it and most of the related initiatives focus on technical challenges. However, an appropriate business alignment will be essential for large scale adoption and the achievement of the predicted benefits. Without it Web Services might be perceived as a purely technical solution without real impact and significance.
Business Process Modelling (BPM), a supportive element within the Business Process Management concept, provides a valuable means for the business alignment and assessment of Web Service technology. It can facilitate the identification and evaluation of opportunities offered by Web Service application. A systematic depiction of an organisation’s business processes and related resources helps discover the best chances for first Web Service activities. Moreover, information provided through early success stories can be integrated into Business Process Models and offer new ideas and impetus as well as facilitate deployment. This research project proposed a structured framework for Web Service approaches along which domains and types of information could be identified that need to be gathered in order to identify and evaluate potential Web Service opportunities systematically. In general, this involves considering process, activity, and resource characteristics as well as specific organisational factors. The different types of essential information could then be mapped to suitable BPM constructs, for their representation in a business process model, always bearing in mind necessities like the models’ clarity, ease of extension and communication. Here, the ARIS concept and toolset - the latter being among the most popular toolsets for BPM worldwide - were used to capture essential supportive information for Web Service approaches. Different modelling constructs were evaluated and limitations identified. An exemplary collaborative Business Process Model was designed to illustrate the conceptual proposals. This was done for e-Procurement scenarios since this functional area at the “boundary” of organisations is generally seen as a likely area for early Web Service application. Given that a Web Service example review during the research project had focussed especially on this field, information about first publicly known implementations could also be illustratively integrated into the model.
In conclusion, the main outputs of this research project are: a) a compact characterisation of Web Service technology, including comprehensive, structured listings of benefits and risks, as well as business purposes and an overview of expected and actual adoption, b) a list of categorised identified Web Service implementations, c) a proposed framework for systematic Web Service approaches including several checklists and scoring tables, d) a structured set of identified critical information for Web Service evaluation and deployment, e) a mapping of this information to ARIS constructs for representation in a business process model, illustrated with an example.