Experimentation the key...
Eighteen months ago Microsoft treated two of BT's most senior executives to its web services vision - evangelising the possibilities of integrating legacy applications with the latest and greatest the web had to offer.
After a few hours and - we assume - dozens of PowerPoint slides, the Microsoft representative turned expectantly to Pierre Danon, CEO of BT Retail, and Andy Green, CEO of BT Ignite, and asked them what they thought.
"Andy and I thought nothing," Danon recalls. Neither man bothered to mask their lack of knowledge.
A year and a half on and BT has clearly been on a crash course. Today it made its pitch to be your web services partner of choice. And despite announcing the availability of a component library and management platform the over-arching message seemed to be this: now is the time to dabble in web services. Now is not the time to roll out web services.
Underpinning this message was the launch of a deployment environment that allows BT customers to test drive and build integrated applications on the .Net or J2EE platforms.
Whether customers will be willing to pay the £10,000 up front and £20,000 monthly charges is a moot point but the principle is sound. Given we're still waiting for all the pieces in the web services jigsaw to fall into place (Sun and Microsoft are still building some of the pieces, after all) and given standards need to be ratified (web services security (WSS) anyone?) now is the time for caution.
Experiment in a test environment and once you are satisfied that the theory and practice make sense for your business roll them out across a selection of internal processes. Only then consider doing the same to applications that cross the great divide between you and your customers and you and your suppliers.
In the words of Quocirca analyst, Clive Longbottom: "Suck it and see."