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Issue of January 2003 
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Techscope 2003: .NET
Applying .NET in business

One of the biggest challenges faced by companies worldwide today is integrating disparate applications within enterprises, between enterprises and its suppliers & customers, and among the various devices being used by their employees to stay connected. Using .NET connected software solves this integration problem. by Dilip Mistry

In the dusty villages of West Godavari district, Andhra Pradesh, rural women not so literate believe in savings but banks do not reach them—it is too costly for them. The District Administration of West Godavari wanted to facilitate the women's groups below the poverty line to encourage savings, and provide them with easy access to banks and government agencies to promote e-governance.

If technology has to provide a solution, there are the limitations of bandwidth and low level infrastructure, that restrict the exchange of data at the village level. The only communication network available is a dial-up network.

The district administration turned to CoOptions, who had been working with women's self-help groups to develop a banking management solution that would facilitate and encourage savings and maintain records, help women interact with banks and coordinate with government agencies for grants and schemes, as well as facilitate fund transfers and fund management. It would also help them learn about economic activities, and provide access to information on health, childcare, sanitation etc.

Project Mahila Spurthi
Mahila Spurthi uses the low-level bandwidth and low level infrastructure, to allow the exchange of data to take place at the village level with dial-up as the mode of transmission. Using the XML format, Web services enable customized client application and user interface through exchange of data.

'Mahila Spurthi', the first-of-its-kind deployment of the .NET based Web services in India's rural space, provides links to the Mandal Revenue Officer, commercial banks, police station and public health center. The standout feature of Mahila Spurthi is that using the low level bandwidth and low level infrastructure, the exchange of data takes place at the village level with dial-up as the mode of transmission.

This solution being scalable to the district level gives the collector access to data pertaining to the entire district, helping him view the data with a drill down approach to a specific Mandal, an IDAC (Information Dissemination and Acquisition Center) in that specific Mandal, an SHG (Self Help Groups), or even the savings and borrowing of an individual member of that particular SHG. While all governmental services and schemes need the data, the advantage of .NET enables the collector to be free from maintaining the repository at every location and at all the levels of hierarchy.

The Web services offered by the bank, IDAC and the MPDO (Municipal District Offices) enable the development of customized client application and user interfaces as and when required, since the exchange of data happens through Web services in an XML format.

By means of alerts, the end users can understand each activity and the processes involved therein. These Web services enable the plugging of a localized service into a desktop application, client-server architecture, or an Internet-enabled application, with seamless integration even at the grass root level.

Paradigm shift
I am sure like the rest of us, you too at some point have been a part of the debate on the much talked about paradigm shift to XML Web services, which will completely revolutionize the industry. When I look back to the early 1990's, when the Internet era had just about begun, we all were a witness to the fundamental shift in computing.

Standards such as HTML and HTTP exponentially increased people's use of the Internet. Today, browsing the Internet is a key activity in the daily lives of business employees and consumers.

This increasing usage of the Web led the industry into the next stage—a computing model that enabled a standard way of building and deploying applications to ensure information flow in an easy and seamless manner over the Web. This was what we referred to as the new Internet based integration methodology—"XML Web Services"—that enables applications, businesses and machines to work together in a way which was not previously possible. With XML Web services came the rapid change in technology and business innovation, and numerous products and technologies to choose from. To address this shift to XML Web services, Microsoft in 2001 announced a business strategy, a set of technology architectures and products, along with a renewed partner and developer initiative, called .NET.

I now come to the focus of this article, a question that we are most often faced with: What is .NET and how will .NET help companies achieve this paradigm shift to XML Web services that everyone is talking about. Before I go on to define .NET, I would like to clarify that .NET is not XML. There seem to be myriad versions of people's definition of .NET. Simply put .NET is nothing but software that connects information, people, systems and devices through the use of XML Web services. If there was one word that I could use to describe .NET, it would be 'Connected!'

One of the biggest challenges faced by companies worldwide today is integrating disparate applications within enterprises, between enterprises and its suppliers & customers, and among the various devices being used by their employees to stay connected. Using .NET connected software solves this integration problem. Built on XML Web services, .NET is integrated across the Microsoft platform, providing the ability to quickly build, deploy, manage and use connected, secure solutions. These solutions enable faster, more agile business integration, and the promise of information anytime, anywhere and on any device.

.NET in business
With the momentum behind XML Web services growing among developers and businesses, we are today in a position to deliver the most complete solution for XML Web services. While developers have long understood the benefits of using the wide variety of .NET connected tools, services, clients and servers, there still seems to be some confusion over the value .NET offers to IT professionals. Let me highlight how .NET improves businesses.

By using the Internet to enable software applications to work together in a seamless manner, .NET offers businesses the opportunity to increase operating profits, decrease costs and connect with customers and employees. It does this by allowing businesses to share data, integrate processes, and offer customized and comprehensive solutions to customers. By using the Internet to enable software applications to work together, .NET helps in easier integration within and between businesses, while creating opportunities to more meaningfully connect customers. Using .NET connected software, businesses can realize improvements in time and cost associated with developing and maintaining business applications, as well as benefit by empowering employees with the ability to access information anywhere from any smart device.

.NET paves the way for new business opportunities. By putting your business on the Web, companies can benefit in many ways commercially. For example, if an interesting application like a tax engine has been developed by a company for its internal use, it can be exposed on to the Internet as an XML Web service, enabling other companies to quickly and easily use the functionality, thus providing a new revenue stream.

.NET for the IT professional
Coming back to the value of .NET for the IT professional, the .NET connected technologies have a far reaching impact on IT professionals. .NET equips IT professionals and connects their business more broadly than ever. It helps IT professionals with the task of accelerating and improving daily operations to providing advanced capabilities for deploying next generation technologies. For the IT pros, the real value of .NET comes in interoperability and seamless connectivity of several systems and sources of data. Coupled with anytime, anywhere connectivity and system to user interconnection, .NET connected software helps businesses deliver unparalleled levels of value to customers, partners and employees. Simply put, .NET connected software helps IT pros in the following ways:

  • Streamlines deployment
  • Enables interoperability with diverse systems, including legacy systems
  • Enhances security
  • Reliably connects and supports both stationary and mobile devices

To provide you with an expanded description of .NET for IT professionals, it consists of:

  • A software platform for building .NET experiences
  • A programming model and tools to build and integrate XML Web services
  • A set of programmable Web services
  • Interaction with a broad range of smart devices via the Web, ensuring control of the same in the hand of the user rather than the application
  • Applications, services and devices that are personalized, simple, consistent and secure

Leveraging on Web Services
The Microsoft products and technologies that help businesses leverage Web services are:

  • Windows 2000 Server: Infrastructure for the linear, cost effective scaling required by the Web services world.
  • The .NET Enterprise Servers: The foundation for running, managing and securing XML Web services. Designed with mission critical performance in mind, the .NET Enterprise Servers provide enterprises with the agility they need to integrate their systems, applications and partners through XML Web services, and the flexibility to adapt to changing business requirements.
  • XML Web services: An XML Web services model offers developers an opportunity to achieve economies of scale by utilizing a set of core XML Web services that releases developers from the burden of building everything themselves. By integrating these core services to perform routine tasks, developers can concentrate on building high value, business critical XML Web services.
  • XML Web services capable clients: Microsoft supports XML Web services across the full range of smart clients so that customers can access a company's XML Web services regardless of location or type of device. Some of the clients include Windows CE, Windows Embedded, Windows 2000 and Windows XP. These clients in turn power PCs, laptops, workstations, smart phones, handheld computers etc.
  • Developer tools & technologies: A productive set of tools becomes critical to developer success. Visual Studio.NET and the Microsoft.NET Framework supply a complete solution for building, deploying and running XML Web services. They help maximize the performance, reliability and security of a company's XML Web services.

The big question is are you ready to latch on to the XML Web services revolution that solve today's integration and interoperability problems? To conclude, I would like to leave you with five easy steps that lead to the future:

  • Educate yourself and your IT department about XML Web services and Microsoft.NET.
  • Discuss your company's XML Web services strategy with your IT department and see how .NET has already helped companies improve their profitability.
  • Meet with a consultant who specializes in .NET connected software and explore the impact it can have on your business.
  • Deploy pilot projects using XML Web services to take the first step toward connecting more closely with customers, partners and employees.
  • Insist that all future hardware and software purchases be based upon XML Web service technology to ensure interoperability and long term value.

The writer is Director, .NET & Developer Evangelism, Microsoft Corporation India.

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