An Introduction to Web Services

Article excerpt

A web service is a software application on a network that has an interface through which other programs can gain access. Web services can be as simple as a mortgage calculator or as complex as software applications made up of component modules located all over the world. They are currently being used to help large and small entities get the most from their IT resources by allowing the integration of diverse software applications, from desktop programs to large enterprise-wide systems. Not only is this useful for day-to-day operations, it is especially helpful in integrating systems after a merger or acquisition.

Finance and Accounting Web Services

Finance and accounting-oriented web services are proliferating rapidly. A particularly interesting one can be found at:http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/dnxpwst/html/odc_ofwstrex.asp. This web service uses the delayed stock quote web service provided by Xmethods (www.xmethods.net) to download specific stock quotes directly into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Finance and accounting professionals often need data about a company's financial performance to use for further analysis. The normal process is to get the required data either online or from a printed document, manually enter it into the appropriate cells of a spreadsheet, and run the analysis. This web service, however, uses an Excel spreadsheet to "talk" to a database of stock quotes on the Internet, downloading specific data as requested.

Another finance and accounting web service is a subscription service that provides real -time access to the Edgar database of SEC filings. Created by XigniteEdgar (www.xignite.com), this web service enables users to monitor the SEC Edgar database for submissions and then download recent filings.

Yet another is a web service provided by Inkostar, which translates accounting data in XML (Extensible Markup Language) format to IIF (Intuit Interchange Format) for input to a QuickBooks application (www.inkostar.com/iifws/default.asp).

Flexibility of Web Services

Web services do not require extensive modification of existing software. Dun & Bradstreet offers :Tracking Folders," a web service that allows subscribers to continually monitor customer, suppliers, competitors, or business partners, for credit checks, collection processes, and more. Subscribers to the Dun & Bradstreet tracking web service maintain folders on their local computer and automatically receive information that could affect business decisions. Essentially, the service plugs various Dun & Bradstreet software applications into software applications on a subscriber's computer. The subscriber pays an ongoing fee for the service, and can add additional applications or drop them at any time without modifying or disabling software applications.

How Do Web Services Work?

The key to making web services work is data, process, and communication standards. The communication protocol standard is the same as the Internet, TCP/IP. All computers can "talk" TCP/IP. The data standard is XML, a set of syntax rules for adding meaning to data and for building other XML standards. The process standards are actually a set of evolving XML standards: SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), for packaging messages from one software application to another; WSDL (Web Services Description Language), for describing the web services processes in terms a software application can understand; and UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration), for describing how to find and use an available web service. …