HR simply removes the employee's name from our identity management system. That change flows automatically to all systems as an instruction to remove the employee's account."

This process saves the county time and money, he said, because instead of devoting staff resources to maintaining user profiles, an XML agent drives the activities by making changes throughout the entire system, including network account, file storage, telephone system and directories, security rights and clearances, and e-mail accounts.

That project should be wrapped up by the end of this year, he said.

Next in line is a project he's calling "XML dash boarding," which will allow managers to check internal progress and compare progress among county departments via a Web browser, according to Kannberg. "Competition is always a great thing," he said.

"We plan to use XML on the back end to touch a database that somebody else holds onto. So we're not infringing on their territory, they give me a normal login to their system. Either using standard XML, if the application speaks that, or a connector if there is no XML native to the application we want to hit, I can get data off their system using a standard login," he said. "They get to be the expert and keep their territory. I get their data, aggregate it and compare it to other things here internally. Management knows exactly how departments are doing against other departments, and how departments' budgets are doing."

Whither Web Services

What Web services will mean to enterprises can be compared to what HTML and URLs meant to the usefulness of the Internet, said Dan Sholler, vice president and service director of META Group's Technology Research Services.

"Instead of just a person talking to a computer, it's now a computer talking to a computer," Sholler said. "The most compelling examples of use of Web services have been in situations where organizations dramatically improve what they do by connecting things that, in the past, were considered hard to connect."

He cited a recent Web services project between Southwest Airlines and Dollar Rent a Car as an example. Southwest linked its Web site for flight reservations to Dollar's Web site, so a consumer purchasing an airline ticket could also rent a car at the same time.

"The interesting thing about this is the whole project, from conception to completion, took six weeks," he said. "The Southwest site is a CORBA-based system, and Dollar's reservation system was some god-awful legacy VAX thing. It wasn't like this was a no-brainer where they were taking things that were all the same and just getting them to talk to each other. The last time I checked, Dollar estimated they were getting $1 million a month worth of business out of this project.

"The technology itself is kind of cool, but that's not the point," he continued. "The point is this kind of connectability -- this ability to put things together that you just sort of assumed were not able to be put together."

Though this ability has everybody excited, the existence of a set of tools that promise universal connectivity means IT professionals must think about representing information in a way that makes it consumable by other agencies, Sholler said. In the past, many agencies worried only about representing information in a way that matched their own internal decision-making processes.

Another issue is the potential strain on legacy systems created by automated Web services that swap information back and forth. Speeding up these information transactions could mean service problems if a receiving system wasn't built to handle the faster pace of information, he said, and new linkages between information systems could create load problems.

If a state wanted to verify that a hunter who applied

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor