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perspectives on open-source and web services

Monday, April 11, 2005

actual progress is being made

I am in communication with UPS, USPS, FedEx, and DHL in regards to re-selling their online services, bundled and branded together in a single interface. FedEx's registration even asked which other carriers' services would be offered along with theirs, so they have obviously worked with ISV's that build shipping management solutions before.

mine has a few key differentiating factors, which I think will make it a great service.

1. built on top of a solid SOA. this is still in progress, but with a proper SOA, keeping up with all the different carriers' online functionality should not be a problem, and developers can be assigned to certain carriers, and to implement the carriers' functionality into the larger shipping management product that we are building. In addition, SOA based on WS-* standards will allow our offering to be incorporated into BPEL processes, which many larger companies will undoubtedly be using in the future.

2. low cost. we use open-source technologies, which makes our software costs approx. 0. I'm almost positive, should demand go as high as I'd like it to, to deploy on Zend Platform, or ActiveGrid, and to use commercial licenses of MySQL, Linux, etc. besides just the software licensing, the popularity of the OS technologies means there will be a huge number of developers as potential employees.

3. relating to a project Matt has going, I will also work on a RAD framework with him that will, hopefully, be built with consideration of allowing developers to quickly and easily set up communications with services such as the one we'll be offering. if that really is the case, then popularity of that framework will only help to accellerate the demand for our service.

4. federated identity. I don't know a LOT about this (yet), but the concept sounds great, and it's one of the differentiating factor that the Rearden group uses. hopefully Rearden will eventually be one of our customers. =)


At 4/14/2005 5:17 AM, Blogger Richard Veryard said...


I don't understand what value-add you can offer. To what extent are you transforming the services rather than simply passing them "straight-through"? How are you going to create a viable brand?

If you succeed I am very interested to know more, but I think you have a hard task ahead. (The software is the easy bit.)

cheers, Richard

At 4/14/2005 9:36 AM, Blogger luke said...

hey Richard. thanks for coming by...I'm interested to find out how you ended up here, as I'm basically aware of NO readers of this blog...

in any case, there are a few value adds that exist in this model. these values do not necessarily apply to the entire courrier-services market - they may only apply to certain niches. but I think they are valuable enough to make customers in those niche markets.

aggregation. the first response to this post, which you have linked to from your post, addresses the value of aggregating products from multiple manufacturers. there is value in the sense that you can go to the store, and buy products from many different vendors thru a single channel. you make a single aggregated order which will trickle to many vendors, you pay a single bill, which will trickle to many vendors - you interact with a single merchant, who will trickle out the interactions to many vendors.

this same value can exist for services. in even just a medium-sized business, there can be an entire logistics department. it is valuable for end users of logistics (store clerks, field sales, customers, etc.) to have a single place to go to for all logistical needs. it may just be a number of employees who spend their entire day calling up different carriers to find out what's going on with different shipments. they are only providing services to the company, but they still have value.

buying consolidated services via a single channel thru an external company merely out-sources that value-production. it lets you focus on your core business and lets the service-provider handle, to whatever extent possible, your logistics. in my case, the project will handle all the technical, and hopefully most of the administrative, tasks of integrating your carriers' services into your business model.

this may seem like a small piece of the over-all pie, but it's still an important piece. and especially when we're talking about solid SOA architecture built with exposure via standardized Web Services itself, it makes this particular brand of intermediation pluggable into any other software models you have going, or may get in the future. (assumming, of course, they drank the same WS koolaid as the rest of us)

usability. extending the theme of aggregation making logistics-handling easier for companies - a brand can be built around the goal of making logistics extremely easy-to-use. both for an end-user, or for a technical integrator. the aggregated services are available to customer via a nice, clean, crisp, simple web interface (ala Google), and are also available via nice, clean, crisp, simple, web SERVICES.

rather than jump around X number of carriers' websites, end users can go to a single, clean interface to manage shipments for all carriers.

or, if they have their own resources (IT staff, consultants, etc), they can integrate the aggregated services into their own end-user applications - both existing and new.

extending this last capability a bit further...

freelance programmers are getting more and more work from traditional small business that are in need of various online capabilities (and not just online retail). if an open-source framework exists that makes it even that much easier for programmers to consume these kinds of services, it means that even very small businesses will be possible consumers of services like these, and since location is moot, the potential exists that every small business in the country is a possible customer.

I'd like to also bring up a somewhat local brand in my area (Midwest USA) that has been doing very well. QuikTrip is a convenience store. they're not run by an oil company - in fact, I don't even know which company supplies them. they don't have anything really that's exclusive to QuikTrip that you can't get at any other convenience store. but their facilities are always clean, they always greet you at the door, they never sweat pennies of change, their soda machines are never broken, etc.

their brand is not built on value that they add to products they sell, or on value that they add to services they pass-thru. their brand is built on a set of consistent circumstances that you experience when you buy those products and services. and they're doing very well on that premise alone.

At 4/14/2005 2:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep us posted on your progress. I'd like to see what this product looks like when you're done.

- Hart, FedEx Services


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