Roundtable: IT Pros Cite Best Tech Bets

SANs, WLANs, Web services are some of the technologies making enterprise headway.

New technologies are being approached, evaluated and implemented more cautiously than ever: A technology has to show some proven return on investment before most companies will even begin to consider it, a Catch-22 thats slowing the adoption pace for enterprises and the revenue stream for vendors. Several members of eWeeks Corporate Partner advisory board met recently with eWeeks Peter Coffee and Debra Donston to discuss the new (and relatively new) technologies that are capturing CP organizations mind share, if not, at this time, their pocketbooks.

Coffee: Can any of you comment on the degree to which youre now looking for solutions that include tools from vendor A that are intended to manage assets that may come from vendors A, B, C through Q, with no intention of consolidating on one vendors base?

Gunnerson: Thats a good question. All I have for you is a generic answer from Gannett. We try to get the best solution for the problem. At this point, each system is pretty much managed by itself. We havent been looking for more of an umbrella management solution there.

Shaw: Its a similar situation for us. We have multiple environments ... and find ourselves using multiple management platforms to support them because each of the platforms that offers, or promises to offer, some consolidation always leaves out certain parts.

Coffee: What are you looking at in terms of nonproprietary file formats or the use of XML so you have at least a starting point for transcoding content?

Ramos: There seems to be a resurgence in user-controlled standards groups. I mean, go back six months to a year—its almost like users and companies were standing back and letting the vendors pick the standards. While its not a revolution, its a quiet evolution that I find quite noticeable. The users are taking back the definition of the standards processes.

Gunnerson: The good thing about XML is, its allowed us to use a standard engine, an XML parser, to look inside of these definitions and data stores. [But] thats about all its given us—a way to look at them. We still have a lot of work to do to make sure that were interoperable between two people in the same industry.

Coffee: So the problem with the extensibility of XML is that once someone seems to have consensus on a Document Type Definition, it turns into a Christmas tree, and everyone wants to go ahead and add something to it?

Gunnerson: Right.

Coffee: Judy, are Web services technologies of more than a casual interest at this point? Are people actually starting to do things with them?

Brown: Yes. Web services are going to be a huge player, a huge part of what were doing and what were looking at going forward.

Donston: Can you give a specific example of how Web services might be used?

Brown: Well, Web services in the education arena, as we look at delivery platforms—whether its a collaborative tool, as we just looked at, Deb, in an eValuation thats coming out [in the July 1 issue]—if we buy a solution and we go with a single product, obviously theyre not going to have everything that we want. We would love to be able to pull in some other question generator, an assessment generator, a collaborative discussion tool or conferencing communication tool, or some kind of a grade book. These could be plugged and played through Web services and called out through the right architecture (if you have the right infrastructure).

Coffee: Nelson, health care, of course, is the other area where there are an enormous number of highly specialized providers of different services that could use a better mechanism for collaboration. Will Web services provide that mechanism?

Ramos: Yes, were looking to that because, ideally, whether you call them portals or you call them updates of the patients, what were looking at is using that schema to basically provide an aggregator of real-time operations that would bring across patient-related data from all these vendors that were dealing with.

Theres a tremendous amount of desire on the part of the physicians for this because they are basically depending on this data for enhanced decision-making. The challenge is that not all vendors are embracing XML, and also health care in general seems to be walking on eggshells. Were in the midst of implementing some government-led privacy regulations, so everyones a little bit leery about sharing information at this time.

Coffee: Are you in the adoption phase of any of the big names in Web services right now— .Net, Sun ONE, IBMs new Eclipse initiative?

Ramos: Were sort of moving toward Java-based applications because theyre here now. Again, thats primarily dictated by the R&D efforts of the vendors—whos there and whos not.

Coffee: So, youre basically writing Java code that handles [Simple Object Access Protocol] messages, but youre not getting yourselves tied into any of the particular service frameworks?

Ramos: Correct.

Coffee: Judy, are you in an adoption phase on any of these frameworks?

Brown: No, were at a watch-and-see-and-test point.

Coffee: And, you, Gary?

Gunnerson: No. In fact, my comment would be that EDI [electronic data interchange] is pretty much still the lasting initiative on data exchange between businesses in our industry right now.

Coffee: So, theres really no business case for a rip-and-replace for businesses that have an EDI-based solution in place?

Gunnerson: None that I can see. The trading partners dont really change that much. The relationships and systems are already built, so theres not a real good reason to change it out at this point.

Rabuck: Alliance did a session here in Philadelphia, and we had probably about 100 customers debating [Java 2 Enterprise Edition] vs. .Net. I think, at the end of the day, most people came away not with an answer of one or the other but probably with a clear vision that theyre going to have to pick one main piece and then possibly integrate in some ways with the other.