PW: Tony, we hear a lot about “Dot Net” from Microsoft these days, but exactly what is it?
TONY: Yes, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s just a Microsoft branding exercise to drum up interest in the latest versions of their products!
However, underneath the branding, there’s some very important technology. “Dot Net” is Microsoft’s platform for developing and deploying systems that use XML Web Services.
PW: OK, so what are XML Web Services?
TONY: XML Web Services are software components that can be used across the Internet. In other words you can build a software application using XML Web Services running elsewhere on the Internet either to share data or to perform some of the functions within the application.
PW: Yes, but why would you want to do that?
TONY: Good question! As usual with new IT developments there’s a lot of hype about and you certainly wouldn’t want all software built that way. After all, you do have to consider speed and reliability. But when you think about it, there are some software functions where it makes a lot of sense.
For example if you need to use foreign currencies in your accounting system, rather than phoning the bank and typing in the latest exchange rates, it would be much better if your computer connected directly to a Web Service on your bank’s computer to get them automatically.
PW: So then everyone can use the bank’s Web Service for currency conversion instead of their own system having to be able to do it?
TONY: Exactly! As well as saving work for users, it speeds up software development because programmers can use a standard Web Service for specialised functions instead of writing their own from scratch.
PW: But does everyone need Microsoft .Net for this to happen?
TONY: No, .Net is Microsoft’s own platform for Web Services, but XML Web Services use open standards and so can be used across all sorts of computer platforms such as UNIX and Linux. XML is now the industry standard format for transferring data.
PW: So, how do you see all of this benefiting the wholesaler or the supply chain?
TONY: The big benefit for the future is that it’s going to become easier and cheaper to integrate systems, helping supply chain partners to collaborate over the Internet.
People are now linking applications together using the Web Services standards. These may be different applications that a single company is using internally and wants to join together – such as linking your stock control and accounts systems.
Or it may be a case of integrating applications used by business partners. For example, linking your order entry system to your customer’s purchasing system so you can receive orders automatically.
Another example that BCP are working on is a Web Service to allow a retailer’s EPoS system to immediately query the wholesaler’s system for the price when a barcode is not recognised. This will provide much better customer service than the usual method of shouting for a supervisor, and could prevent some expensive mistakes.
PW: Will Web Services replace technologies like Web Ordering?
TONY: No. Web ordering allows customers to view your web site and place an order using a web browser. It allows people to use your application running on your web server to view and interact with the data in your system.
Web Services allow applications to integrate together without any human intervention.
Both of these technologies will help you to co-operate with supply chain partners in order to improve efficiencies and customer service.
PW: It sounds exciting. When will wholesalers be able to take advantage of Web Services?
TONY: It’s very early days. We’re just starting to see systems being delivered that use Web Services.
At the moment it’s more a case of ensuring that your software supplier is up to date with Web Services technology so that you can be sure you don’t miss out in the future.