Web services need push from the top, experts say

EPA's Kim Nelson says a component registry and a white paper on reusable software components will encourage agencies to adopt a service-oriented architecture.

Tom Fedor

The cicada-like buzz over Web services during the past year will be nothing but background noise until the CIO Council and the Office of Management and Budget make Web services an official part of how the government does business, OMB's former IT chief says.

Mark Forman, former OMB administrator for e-government and IT, said the move to Web services through a service-oriented architecture would save the government tens of millions of dollars and ensure security.

It also would deliver better services to citizens by letting agencies share software for similar operations rather than buying new licenses and customizing code.

But many agencies have been reluctant to give up control of their software and don't fully understand the details of the service-sharing architecture, he said.

'Agencies must decide whether they want to own and manage their own applications and software code or do the function through Web services,' said Forman, now executive vice president of Cassatt Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif. 'OMB needs to say, 'Use Web services,' and build a policy around it.'

Venkatapathi Puvvada, chief technology officer for Unisys Corp.'s global public sector unit, said agencies are showing a lot of interest in using Web services.

But OMB, the General Services Administration and other agencies need to first adopt open standards such as the Universal Description, Discovery and Integration protocol, Web Services Directory Language and Simple Object Access Protocol, he said.

Agencies also should provide incentives to get software vendors to follow the standards, he said.

'There has to be a lot of critical mass to embrace these standards,' Puvvada said. 'There needs to be more detail in the Federal Enterprise Architecture and the rationalization of components so agencies know what they are and how they work.'

Reusable components

The CIO Council's Architecture and Infrastructure Committee is finalizing a white paper on reusable components that will give agencies a strategy on how to more easily share software.

A component is anything from basic computer code for a simple function to an entire application performing multiple, complex functions.

Kim Nelson, the co-chairwoman of the committee and Environmental Protection Agency CIO, said OMB is reviewing the paper. After OMB's analysis, the council's executive committee will complete the paper and send it to agencies.

'The white paper will help us develop a registry to keep track of the components so agencies can share them,' Nelson said.

'We have come to a common understanding within the federal architecture community on the definition of a component. We now are working on identifying the lifecycle processes and workflows associated with the components that will be placed in the registry and made available for federal use.'

The white paper and ensuing registry will advance OMB's component registry, known as Core.gov. The Component Organization and Registration Environment identifies reusable components such as self-contained business processes or Web services.

Nelson said the registry is intended to encourage agencies to move to a service-oriented architecture, but the council will not mandate an architectural approach.

Karen Evans, OMB's e-government and IT administrator, said the administration is encouraging the use of Web services through the FEA's Technical Reference Model.

But Forman said the federal architecture is undefined and at a critical juncture because agencies are slow to adopt Web services.

'The government must have a UDDI server directory,' Forman said. 'Agencies must adopt architecture tools to integrate their applications with Web services that are identifiable through the UDDI directory.'

In addition to the CIO Council work, OMB and GSA are considering Web services for the new Lines of Business e-government initiatives, and the Defense Department is planning to use a service-oriented architecture for the Network-Centric Enterprise Services part of its Global Information Grid.

A handful of the Quicksilver e-government projects also are finding success with Web services, including the International Trade Process Streamlining initiative and Geospatial One-Stop.

Hank Garie, Geospatial's executive director, said that by creating a metadata database and connecting through Web services to the geospatial information on several hundred nodes, users can access more than 12,000 sets of data from about 15 states.

'We go through a harvesting process to collect the metadata,' Garie said. 'We use interoperability standards such as Web Mapping Services protocol or Open Archive Initiative protocol to collect the data and connect to it.'

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