Web Services in Action

The term “Web services” is still so vague and poorly defined that examples often prove the best way to get a handle on how the concept might change the way you do business with suppliers and customers.

Take Hewitt Associates LLC (new window), a solution provider for human resources, which recently found itself at a strategic crossroads. Hewitt provides benefits management and HR outsourcing services for most of its customers, many of which were now asking it to provide a way for their employees to access up-to-date information on benefits, 401(k) plans and other HR-related data.

“Right now, we provide outsourcing services in the area of benefits, and we’re kind of an ASP where we host HR information on our site, and we have a variety of channels that let our customers access the site,” comments Tim Hilgenberg, chief technology officer for applications with Hewitt.

In the past, Hilgenberg says, Hewitt would probably have accommodated this sort of customer request by designing a proprietary application that leveraged proprietary APIs—a practice that was invariably expensive and that tended to introduce a raft of additional problems.

“We’re running a mainframe, we don’t know what they’re running, and we’d have to make sure that they could connect from environments like Notes to CICS, which tends to complicate things” he continues.

It’s because of this, Hilgenberg says, that he determined to leverage the potential of Web services to solve his company’s problem. “In addition to being able to expose our services in a secure way, we also wanted to make it as easy as we could on the companies that wanted to access that data, and we didn’t want to develop on the client side a Java interface and a COM interface,” he concludes. “So now, instead of designing a proprietary client and maybe even a proprietary protocol, we can use HTTP and XML as a way to deliver these capabilities to our customers."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.