Web services may have been dismissed in some quarters as hype from technology companies hoping to resurrect the dotcom era, but they will become increasingly important, according to Patrick Gannon, president and chief executive of the Organisation for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (Oasis). Oasis is an international non-profit organisation formed to lead the development of e-business standards. It functions as a vendor-neutral forum for businesses and other technology organisations to express their views. Speaking at the Hong Kong Computer Society's International Computer Conference at the Convention and Exhibition Centre last week, Mr Gannon said Oasis aimed to create standard frameworks for new technologies. 'We need the widespread deployment of standards-based Web services,' he said. Oasis avoided getting involved in vendor wars because it represented 600 companies, he said. But without standards that all vendors could agree upon, nothing would get done. Web services encompass a vision of a fully integrated computing network that includes personal computers, servers, hand-held communication devices, software programes, applications and networking equipment. The technologies behind Web services are all about bringing together seemingly disparate parts to create a working system. Research firm International Data Corp has estimated that the total software, hardware and services opportunities derived from Web services will rise to $1.6 billion next year and US$34 billion in 2007. Many companies have huge investments tied up in ageing computer systems and are unwilling to replace them. 'We want to help make certain the architectures built up over the past 30 years do not become marginalised,' Mr Gannon said. 'Adopting open standards will increase the value of existing and future investments.' Computer vendors are talking about technologies that may have millions of dollars worth of impact on a company, but they concede that, without common standards for machines to communicate with one another securely, Web services will not work. Mr Gannon warned of the danger of Web services falling victim to the kind of negative publicity that has surrounded security on desktops. 'There is a danger that Web services could fall victim to the same kind of negative impact if the security issues are not solved,' Mr Gannon said. 'Web services are in their infancy. We expect that security should be ready by the end of the year, but it will not solve everything.' He said it would be unwise for Web services to depend on a single vendor: the whole point of standards was to present a platform where each vendor could present its case. 'We must make certain we meet the needs of the vendors in a multi-vendor market. But we are also pragmatic,' said Mr Gannon. 'It is up to the marketplace to decide. The vendors must recognise that they must work together.' He said there was a place for end users to make their views felt from a business angle. Companies that concentrated on technology often missed the point of business, and it was up to the end users to keep them reminded of the business angle, he noted. With more than 600 companies to deal with, Mr Gannon must ensure the academics responsible for the standards keep sight of the real world. With organisations such as Oasis keeping vendors in line, it is inevitable that the potential offered by Web services will be realised.