REDMOND, Wash., Jan. 16, 2002 — The newest technology at the local car dealership isnt just under the hood of that sexy sports car youve been ogling. Its also powering the computer systems — and the success — of the dealer. For example, sales personnel can receive instant updates about sales figures, new promotions and new leads, motivating and preparing them to exceed their targets. And they can automate better service for you — for example, sending a friendly reminder to your desktop when its time for a tune-up or oil change, then allowing you, with a click of the mouse, to go to a Web page that schedules your appointment. If you ask for it, they can also see to it that more-timely information — for example, news of limited deliveries of that sports car you checked out, equipped just the way you want it — follows you to your handheld PC or cell phone when youre away from your desktop.
The software that makes this possible became available this week as part of a strategic alliance between Reynolds and Reynolds — the leading provider of information services for auto retailers in the U.S. — and Microsoft. The Reynolds Generations Series software, unveiled Jan. 15 at the Automotive News World Congress event in Dearborn, Michigan, is based on the Microsoft .NET platform. Ii is one of the latest examples of how companies in virtually every major industry are taking advantage of .NET to offer XML-based Web services that connect people, devices and information across the Internet in new, personalized and highly beneficial ways.
The Success of .NET
“.NET is a new kind of software platform, based on the fundamental premise that it is time to start connecting all the islands of technology in the world,” says Charles Fitzgerald, general manager of Microsoft’s .NET platform strategies. “Despite the global connectivity of the Internet, the industry has been building islands — whether applications, devices or services — that dont play well with other technologies. So whether its implementing business processes across applications within companies, linking up customers or suppliers, or just getting all the technology in our personal lives to work together, .NET has the goal of harnessing these technologies to work together on our behalf. Its a new breed of software platform and programming tools to make building constellations of multiple applications, devices and services faster and easier than its ever been.”
Says David Ruiz, vice president of marketing for Avinon, Inc., a leading provider of business service management software, “.NET is so prominent because Microsoft offers the most complete vision for Web services, the only platform with native support for the XML language at the foundation of that vision, and the most extensive range of servers, clients, services and tools that developers and companies need to be successful in implementing Web services today.” Avinon also announced a strategic alliance with Microsoft this week for a new set of solutions based on .NET and Avinons NetScenario software that will help companies to move vital business services online.
That extensive range of .NET components has grown over the last 12 months, as Microsoft delivers key parts of the .NET platform, including:
A common programming model with native support for XML Web services
World-class development tools with Microsoft Visual Studio .NET
A family of smart clients, including Microsoft Windows XP and Pocket PC
Servers, including the full family of Microsoft Windows 2000 Enterprise Servers
.NET services, including .NET Passport authentication, .NET Alerts and .NET My Services
By integrating several of these key .NET platform components — including BizTalk Server, SharePoint Portal Server and Visual Studio.NET — with NetScenario, Avinon and Microsoft offer solutions targeted to specific industries and customizable for specific customers. For example, financial-services firms can handle account enrollment, inquiries and changes online, as well as increase credit lines, provide insurance quotes and other policyholder services. Healthcare providers can manage patient enrollment and administration online, as well as provide appointment notifications and health-plan marketing. Manufacturers can submit purchase orders, extend warranty services, process product claims and resolve credit disputes online. Telecommunications companies can activate services, respond to inquiries and service change requests, and manage repairs and consumer feedback online.
Greater Agility and Support for Existing Investments
“Companies are turning to Web services because it enables them to respond with greater agility to challenges and opportunities in the marketplace, and theyre turning to .NET for Web services because it makes those solutions faster, cheaper and easier to create,” says Ruiz. “We had considered solutions based on Java, but .NET is more robust, more comprehensive, and more fully integrated into the broadest array of components.”
The latest example of the comprehensiveness of .NET came this week, when Microsoft introduced the Office XP Web Services Toolkit, which offers Microsoft Office as the venue to consume and aggregate Web services, combined with powerful tools to manipulate, collaborate and make decisions.
“Microsoft is taking a look across the entire company and, in this case, giving our client-server strategy a face-lift by encompassing Web services,” says Microsofts Fitzgerald.
To adopt .NET, companies dont have to throw out their existing investment in systems and tools. The platforms support for reusing existing assets in the Web-services world includes more than 160 adapters for everything from business applications to databases, infrastructure elements and vertical market standards. VisualStudio.NET also allows developers to use any programming language with which theyre comfortable.
“We understand its important for companies to be able to use their existing applications, databases and infrastructure with Web services, without having to write new code, so weve designed .NET to offer greater integration and interoperability with existing systems than any other Web services platform,” says Fitzgerald, who is taking part in a panel discussion on Web services models this week at InfoWorld’s Next Generation Web Services Conference in San Francisco. “Because .NET is the only Web services platform with native support for XML, it offers seamless integration as data and services move throughout the Internet, regardless of the formats in which they originate.”
Avinon took advantage of this capability recently to provide an online warranty-registration service center for a major consumer electronics manufacturer. The solution, based on the .NET platform and NetScenario, leveraged the manufacturers existing Siebel customer application — and was prototyped in just 10 days.
Next: Global XML Architecture
Microsoft continues to refine and expand the already-successful .NET platform, according to Fitzgerald. It plans to add new capabilities — for security features such as credentials, encryption and signatures; for reliable messaging and eventing; and for compensatory transactions and rollbacks — and to expose those capabilities so developers can take immediate advantage of them. Microsoft also plans to address various operational issues facing companies in the Web services world, including monitoring, metering and management of Web services; routing and dynamic configuration; and management of business relationships among multiple companies.
To accommodate these changes and more, Microsoft has begun to talk about what it calls the “Global XML Web Services Architecture,” or GXA.
“GXA is the framework for the next generation of XML Web service capabilities,” says Fitzgerald. “Our initial Web services model has been validated by the marketplace and weve learned from customers. With GXA we are helping enlarge that model to take Web services into new areas — such as infrastructure, business applications, smart clients, new vertical-market segments and increasing operational efficiency.”
Like the existing XML-based model, GXA is based on current standards and protocols, including XML and SOAP, and will use the specifications of the World Wide Web Consortium, the industry standards group. GXA is also extensible and modular, and will support the increasing “federation” of Web services, as customers, partners, suppliers and others work together seamlessly across the Internet, regardless of the boundaries of organizations and geography that may separate them.
“The Web has been about accessing information and its changed the way people interact with computers,” says Fitzgerald. “The XML Web services paradigm will bring the same kind of revolution to the way computers work together over the Internet.”