I bet when you were building your Business Intelligence application, it never occurred to you that your users would be so demanding. After all, you've managed to provide them reports and charts containing all the data they entered into the system. Now, in addition to the data in your internal systems, they're asking you to add in data from other sources that you have no control over. This is actually the latest trend and I'm convinced it'll get worse before it gets better. In the old days, you could just tell them you don't have the data and it would cost a lot of money to bring the information feed in-house. But like I said in my previous article on user expectations, your users already have access to this data on their home computers and they expect the same type of information access from the BI systems they use to get their job done.
The good news is that those applications are using something that's readily available to you -- Web Services (WS). The reason this data used to be unavailable in the past is because the producers had no way of giving it to the consumers. They could dump the data into delimited files and email them to you, but what good would that have been?
Awhile back, a bunch of bright people came up with a way to simplify the process and the concept of Web Services was born. By defining the structure of their feeds, producers of information on the internet can give you instant access to all of their data. Generally, Web Services are a combination of Data Feeds and the Data Definition Language (DDL) that describes them called WSDL. WSDL is a standard way of telling another program what the data feed looks like by defining the input parameters, their format, and the output of the Web Service. To the right is an example of a Stock Quote service provided by www.webservicx.net.
This site accepts a symbol for any stock and outputs a string containing all of the available trading information on that symbol from the stock market. A BI application can simply parse the quote results and publish them as a part of a dashboard or as content for a portal.
There are literally thousands of companies that provide access to their data (weather forecasts, movie listings, stock and financial information, et cetera) via Web Services either free of charge or for a subscription fee. I suspect that in the future more data will be delivered to your end users through this type of collaboration, rather than the traditional method of loading an in-house database with data before you can create reports or dashboards based on it.
Expect this type of functionality to stop being eye candy and become a major part of your business intelligence stack. The ability of your BI software to consume Web Services is a part of the users' expectations. Take full advantage of it to make your users happy and keep utilization of the system high.