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StrikeIron building a web services marketplace

Striking while the iron is hot is exactly what StrikeIron Inc. of Durham, N.C., is aiming to do with its Web Services Business Network (WSBizNet).

WSBizNet is a subscription-based online marketplace of commercial Web services, serving both publishers and consumers of Web services. The company most recently added Global SMS messaging to its suite of communications Web services.
The StrikeIron Global SMS Pro Premium Web Service enables an SMS message to be sent to a mobile phone without knowledge of the recipient's carrier. The Web service can be accessed via standard protocols such as SOAP and REST (Representational State Transfer). It can be invoked directly or from within an application or Web site. In addition, a "bulk-send" method allows multiple SMS messages to be sent simultaneously.

SMS is "an important Web service," said Bob Brauer, president and co-founder of StrikeIron. "A lot of Web services we have are valuable because there is a real-time data feed, and something is constantly changing. Global SMS is different. It's something functional that broadens the base of potential Web services. There are APIs [application programming interfaces] that allow you to send an SMS message, but now you can do it from Excel if you wanted to."

One example of how an SMS Web service might be used is a sales application that could trigger a series of SMS messages to the field reps based on certain events, Brauer said. Another example, he said, is a university that is experimenting with using the SMS Web service to notify students of school cancellations.

StrikeIron, founded in 2002, has more than 40 premium Web services available today, according to Brauer, ranging from StrikeIron-developed Web services to third-party services such as Dun & Bradstreet credit and risk management, Zacks investment research, EDGAR filings, stock quotes, "do not call" lists, census information and more. The company also offers Web services analyzer tools, Web services developers kits and professional services.

"We see a real opportunity for somebody to become the eBay of this space," Brauer said.

"I call it 'economy of services,'" said Ron Schmelzer, a senior analyst at ZapThink LLC in Waltham, Mass. "You locate, buy and sell services for use, and you have a consolidated place to pay for it. Say you were consuming 50 services from 50 different companies, you'd have 50 contracts to work out. [StrikeIron] built a business model around this. You could go to vendors and buy it yourself, but they're aggregating [these services], providing a single place to maintain licensing, pay for it and, as they add more services, you'll have access to it."

The new 'reusable component' marketplace for Web services?

Both Brauer and Schmelzer said the notion of a Web services marketplace is different from what some providers did with reusable component marketplaces.
"We're getting to the point where everybody is supporting Web services, versus components which had different interfaces. They had to be compiled into an application to use them," Brauer said.

Schmelzer said buying components was like buying raw materials, such as gears or sprockets, to put into a program. "The difference is these are services that are running, say it's a FedEx package tracking service -- you call it, it does something and returns the result. It's more like outsourcing a business process than buying a software component."

What StrikeIron is doing is not technically challenging, and it's very early in terms of demand, Schmelzer said: "It's not like there's 5 million customers out there looking to buy Web services." However, he added, StrikeIron does have a lead. "The more services they can accumulate, the more valuable the [WSBizNet] becomes. That's what made eBay a success; their technology was very simple, but it was the number of [items] available. The more stuff you put there, the harder it becomes to displace. It becomes a self-fulfilling thing."


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