What the heck is a web service, anyway?
Well, it’s a service brought to you over the Internet, dummy.
One can split web services into two categories: software as a service and data as a service.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
Unlike traditional software, like Word or Lotus 1-2-3, it doesn’t come on a floppy disk or CD; it’s brought to you over the internet. Google is one example of a Software as a Service; you don’t need to install anything on your computer to use it and its functionality is delivered to you over the web. To cite Google in another example, Google Docs is a web service that lets you read and create documents over the Internet rather than having to install anything on your machine.
Data as a Service (DaaS)
Rather than saving and accessing data on your local machine or server, DaaS involves the hosting of data on an external web service provider’s server. For instance, Postcode Anywhere maintains accurate databases of masses of information, such as valid UK addresses/postcodes and mapping data.
This can work for personal data, too. Web services like Hotmail or Gmail, for instance, both host your data – your emails and attachments (Data as a Service) and provide you with email software (Software as a Service). No data or software is hosted on your own server or PC.
What’s so great about web services?
With so many benefits, this might actually take some time…
1) No installation – no maintenance – no messing about with updates
Web services are the next generation in software. Software as a Service do not require installation and you always have the latest version. Think of how much time is lost installing, updating and managing software – this is just not the case with a web service. The service provider professionals take care of all of the software management for you. And with Data as a Service, all your data will be up-to-the-minute, fed to you directly from the source.
2) Centralised, lean, responsive
You can run any number of programs off the same pool of data, held on the web service database. This means that once you set up the data you need to manage, you can have several programs – all written in different languages – using it to work. What does this mean practically? It means you can maintain a database of customer records in your San Francisco HQ through your desktop PC running Vista while your London sales manager accesses the details off her Apple laptop. Neither person has any software installed; they just plug into the Internet and get on with the job. And it’s just as easy for the developers to make the software as it is for the businesspeople to use it. Development tasks that would take weeks normally can now be polished off in seconds. The software that accesses the data can be either traditional software installed on your machine, or itself Software as a Service brought to you by a SaaS provider.
3) Eminently affordable
Because web services charge you for how much you use the service rather than charging a lump sum just for having the service in the first place, anyone can now have access to the kind of software and datasets that only the biggest players in business could previously afford.
So… what’s data as a service again?
Traditionally, you would find data on a book or a CD that was mailed to you. You would then use this data in your business for as long as possible before having to update your dataset.
…and what’s so great about data as a service?
Having data stored on a central server, which is constantly updated, makes sense. It’s a solution that makes mailing out data on a CD (that’s out of date before it even arrives through your letterbox) a thing of the past. Who wants old data? How can you possibly keep up-to-date data using traditional static models? High-speed internet has paved the way for efficient data solutions where your business will always be on top. No more mail shots sent to people who live elsewhere or don’t exist and no more out of date information.
These web services sound cool… but what can I actually do with them?
There many, many possible applications for web services. Here are some examples:
In Customer Relations Management, bring up your clients’ details at the click of a button with business data management
In Ecommerce, make sure your customers are providing you with the correct bank details or credit card details with bank account and credit card validation.
In E-marketing, verify your contacts’ email addresses to check they’re current before sending out marketing materials.
In Haulage, plan a highly optimized route to save costs with multi-vehicle multi drop-off software – or use similar software to budget fuel allowances. In this case, both the data (geocoordinates) and software (complex route optimization) are provided as a service. You can still plug this into your applications in a number of ways.
There are many, many applications for these web services; anywhere you could use a traditional installed-on-your-desktop application, or self-hosted data in fact.
I’m still not sure about…
Check out TheWebService’s community pages for a feel of others’ experiences, the chance to give feedback and interact.