WebMethods: Staying the Course?By Brian P. Watson Print
WebMethods provides comprehensive tools, but customers wonder about its strategy.
Since its founding in 1996, WebMethods has made more than a handful of acquisitions to boost its service-oriented architecture offerings. But customers say being a mover and shaker can be a pro and a con—while buying technologies could improve webMethods' offerings, some users say acquisitions can blur their view of the firm's strategic direction.
In 2004, NEW Customer Service Cos., a Sterling, Va. company that administers extended service and product support plans for retailers, connected with more than 100 partners every day, sending customer information and sales and claims data over the Internet via file transfer protocol (FTP).
That year, the company looked into alternatives. According to integration manager Jay Jaiprakash, the thinking was, if they can send a file via FTP, why not send it via a Web service?
The idea became reality when NEW had to integrate with a major client, a big-box retailer Jaiprakash declined to name. Using integration server software from webMethods, NEW was able to build Web services that, for example, linked a customer service representative to a repair contractor's schedule, allowing the rep to instantly set days and times for service.
Jaiprakash says NEW has cut service development times in half and estimates that costs have dropped likewise, though he did not have specific figures. "It started out as a small project, but now we've built it out into a complete, standardized framework to build these integrations," he explains.
For TD Banknorth, a Portland, Maine-based financial services firm, growth by acquisition was becoming a painful experience. Each time the bank acquired another company, it ripped out the company's applications and architecture, replacing them with TD's own. That, according to Bob Jones, the bank's enterprise architecture manager, led to problems with training new staff on how to use TD systems as well as getting new customers to transact using new applications.
Linking the disparate systems via Web services was the solution for Jones and his team. And webMethods, one of three vendors brought in for a proof-of-concept test, delivered a solution in three days, while the others (Jones declined to identify the vendors) were still going days later.
WebMethods is always looking to enhance its product offerings, which can be a blessing or a curse, says Joe Castinado, integration architect at TD. For example, with its latest acquisition, Infravio, webMethods picks up new governance tools to replace ServiceNet, a tool that monitors and reports performance metrics for Web services. Castinado was strongly considering implementing ServiceNet; now he says he'll wait for more information from webMethods.
"We were looking down that path, and we'd have to turn 90 degrees back to look at Infravio," he says.
Marc Breissinger, webMethods' chief technology officer, says the firm will unite ServiceNet's strong points, such as mediation, with Infravio's registry layers. "Functionally, (customers) will be getting the best of both products," he says. "It's positioned, for existing customers, as an upgrade."
Ray Kling, manager of commercial applications for PolyOne, an Avon Lake, Ohio-based plastics maker, says he's also keeping an eye on what moves webMethods makes. With looming competition in the service-oriented architecture space from providers like SAP, Kling wonders whether webMethods might narrow its focus or continue with its current offerings.
"We want to understand where our partners are going," Kling says. "Not only what is the next product they'll be releasing, but what will their role be in the overall software world?"
Breissinger says customers like Kling have little reason to worry: "Right now," he says, "we don't have any plans to change our strategy as it is now."
* for three months ended june 30, 2006; fiscal year ends march 31
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