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The New (Inter)Face of Business Intelligence
Service-oriented architectures (SOA) have increased in popularity over the last 18 months due to the promise this approach holds for reducing development and maintenance costs and making it easy to integrate disparate information processes. Web services are the first widely available standards that promotes the use of SOA.
Business intelligence (BI) allows organizations to access, analyze and share information. This helps them to track, understand and manage their business in order to improve enterprise performance. With the evolution of Web services, organizations are becoming more sophisticated in their goals for and requirements of this technology as it offers faster and more flexible deployment, customization and easy integration of BI solutions. Those organizations that choose a Web services strategy will be best positioned to deliver BI content across and beyond the enterprise, making BI accessible to everyone, wherever they work, at a lower cost and in more innovative ways.
SOA is an architectural style that promotes loosely coupled interactions between software agents; Web services, as the first commonly used SOA standard, will have a profound impact on solution development by enabling the easy coupling of differing information processes.
An analogy can be drawn between the impact of Web services and that of the hypertext markup language standard HTML. Prior to HTML there were a variety of ways to present text on a computer screen on HTTP/TCP/IP, but HTML was successful because it enabled users to see information in a single computing space (the World Wide Web), regardless of underlying technologies. Web services similarly enable developers to access computing processes in a single computing space, regardless of underlying technologies.
Advantages for Developers
The core value of Web services is that it enables an SOA-style application development paradigm which offers the BI solution developer two key advantages:
Together these two features give Web services-based solutions a new level of solution agility, adaptability and reuse.
Use the Right Tool for the Right Job
Web services have all too often been pitched as replacing object-oriented designs. In fact, they perform different roles in terms of how they are optimized and should be considered as complementary. Web services are optimized for out-of-process API calls and offer application developers a high degree of technology interoperability, deployment flexibility and ease of application integration. Object-oriented software is optimized for in-process API calls and provides both high-performance and a high degree of customization. Together, both models provide a range of performance and deployment attributes, and developers need to select the model which will work best for the business objectives of the projects they are working on.
Obviously, you are better off having the two cars in your garage available for use, depending on what you are going to do that day. In the Formula One race, you want to use a Formula One designed race car in order to win, and in Baja Mexico you want the Land Rover 4x4 to get across the desert (preferably with a surf board on top for catching some waves in the evenings). The Formula One car won't last long in the Baja desert (the dust alone will kill the engine, aside from the problem of zero traction), and you won't win the Formula One race using a Land Rover 4x4 (just try making a turn at 200 miles per hour on those tires).
While major players are making huge investments to converge the benefits of both design methodologies into Web services, at present the differences remain and it pays to follow the old adage: use the right tool for the job at hand.
When to Use Web Services
Here are some key use cases for which Web services technology is ideal:
Web services will help to revolutionize BI by enabling the conversion of specific BI application deployments into flexible BI service providers that can easily integrate into Web, server and desktop solutions. This will shift the focus of BI solutions from applications to complete networks which provide targeted BI to everyone both inside and outside the organization.
For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Business Intelligence (BI), Enterprise Achitecture, Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) and Web Services.
Chuck Piercey is a senior director of product management at Business Objects.