Web Services

From Vision to Reality

Von Ann Toh

Blowing the Web Services Trumpet...

At NTUC Income Insurance Ltd, an entrepreneurial spirit inspired the use of Web services. The Singaporean co-operative insurance society's charter, says its CIO James Kang, isn't just to make profits but to enrich the lives of Singaporeans. Since 1995, its website has been offering the procurement of household services online. The result: 200,000 happy customers are able to engage a maid, hire a tutor, find a plumber or buy insurance without the need to step out of their houses.

But the insurance firm wants to use Web services technology to engage customers via channels other than its website. Using Web services, Income plans to make its travel insurance services available via more partners' websites, including those of airlines and travel agents where travel tickets and vacation packages are bought, so that it can be closer to where its customers are, and be present at the time of need for its products. "Web services allow me to park myself in places where my customers are, and when they need my services," says Kang.

In contrast with the more traditional means of integration and data sharing, such as EDI, Web services, which offer more flexible or "loosely coupled" ways of linking applications, will allow Income to open up its systems and share a wide array of information with far less tailoring. This is especially important in fulfilling its ambition of taking its service concept global, says Kang.

While EAI packages allow companies to exchange data, they lack common standards and are expensive to implement; Web services, on the other hand, are a low-cost and effective protocol, Kang adds. "The key advantage of using Web services is that they use the Internet, and standards have been established. This is the first time in the industry that standards have been established and agreed upon by all the major vendors - Sun, Microsoft, IBM and BEA. It's [the only] solution offering integration, collaboration and interoperability," he says.

So when Income was approached by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore to be the first poster child for a national Web services project, it jumped at the opportunity. The project would bring together the three Ps - People, Public Sector and Private Sector - to make Web services work in Singapore's context.

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