Unless you've been hiding under a rock for a few years, then you should know by now that the IT industry is in the throes of an integration revolution.
It's no secret that one imperative for achieving maximum enterprise productivity is to remove the people who serve as the glue between the various systems involved in your business processes and replace them with technology -- integration technology that works not just between the systems behind your firewall, but also with the systems outside the firewall such as those of your partners, suppliers, and customers.
For years, the integration technology has existed, but it has largely come in the form of hard-wiring and at an intolerable cost of ownership. A tiny upgrade to one end-point could result in a cavalcade of projects just to bring all of the other related systems in line. Eventually, half-acknowledging one of the biggest pain points of their customers and half-hoping to build the bridge over which they could take each other's customers, IBM and Microsoft aggressively pursued a way to integrate dissimilar middleware technologies and applications, such as IBM's Java-based WebSphere and Microsoft's .Net.
The result has been a blitzkrieg of abstracting APIs -- collectively known as Web services -- that can replace most, if not all, of that hard-wiring with an XML-based lingua franca that all systems can understand. Ultimately, if all systems speak the same language, one of an enterprise's biggest cost centres can be driven way down.
As the APIs evolved, grass-roots organised Web services plug-fests became the proving ground for showing how any software component could easily talk to any other software. Development tools such as Microsoft's Visual Studio .Net have evolved to not only produce service-oriented software, but to take existing software and, with relatively few steps, wrap it in an XML-ready, services-oriented layer. Inside, it was still the same old software, but on the outside, it looked like a Web service.