Web-services technology transforms staid CRM apps into ad hoc, team-building dynamos.Traditional\u00a0CRM \u00a0applications are fine for simple customer queries, but when a complex problem requires pulling several people into a collaborative session, most CRM applications come up short. Customer service representatives might turn to instant messaging or e-mail to resolve the problem, but then they need to enter that information back into the CRM reporting system.OpSource, a Santa Clara managed service provider, was looking for a way around that problem. "We were considering building software in-house because we were convinced that none of the off-the-shelf CRM applications adequately met our collaborative support and account management needs,'' says Kevin Howard, director of operations.In November, OpSource deployed\u00a0ePeople's \u00a0TeamWork 4.5, which lets customer service representatives set up ad hoc teams that can collaborate in a Web-based workspace. One scenario could be where an account representative realizes that a query requires the expertise of an engineer or a finance person. He quickly searches a database to determine which engineer could best help the customer and whether that engineer is currently available. The representative, via e-mail, invites the engineer or whoever else is needed to solve the problem to join the Web-based workspace.Once the team is assembled, the team members store and access all interactions, e-mails and documents in real time. If a document is added or any new interaction between team members takes place, the rest of the team automatically is notified. Using the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP ) framework within ePeople, OpSource integrates the software with its in-house monitoring applications."[With TeamWork], our account managers are automatically in the loop on all activities pertaining to their account and can proactively engage the right resources within OpSource to ensure the highest level of service," Howard says. Since implementing ePeople, OpSource has resolved sensitive customer issues within its contractual service levels.TeamWork 4.5 is part of a new class of enterprise application that uses\u00a0Web services\u00a0technologies such as SOAP and\u00a0XML \u00a0to add on-the-fly collaboration features to structured, workflow-based business processes.These so-called composite applications are especially useful when it comes to complex customer service problems or corporate mergers and acquisitions that require collaborative work across company boundaries and across different vendor products.Software vendors such as ePeople,\u00a0Kintana,\u00a0Niku,\u00a0SAP\u00a0and\u00a0TightLink \u00a0have launched composite applications.TightLink has two products:\u2022\u00a0 Compliance & Investigation System (CIS 3) is a collaborative application designed specifically to assist compliance with the USA Patriot Act of 2001, which requires financial institutions suspect activity from all customer interactions. CIS 3, built on the Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition (J2EE)-based TightLink 3 platform, lets compliance officers, account managers, fraud departments and fund transfer personnel collaborate over the Web.\u2022\u00a0 TightLink Service 3 is a Web-based sales and support application in which agents, customers, partners, suppliers and employees view and participate collaboratively.Bill Verdi, vice president of headquarters sales at Cypress Semiconductor in San Jose, deployed TightLink Service 3 in July. The company has outsourced the first tier of customer support, but issues that outsourcers cannot address come back into the internal support organization. Typically these issues might require more than one expert to resolve.A representative who needs higher-level technical help can pull the appropriate expert into the case through the TightLink system. The expert gets an e-mail notifying him that his help is needed, and with one click he gains visibility into the case history and other case-related documents. The support analyst and the expert engineers can share information related to the case, including specifications and diagnostics results.Cypress looked at many CRM support systems, but they were expensive and did not support collaboration. "We are very happy with our investment in the TightLink solution and were able to get the system up and running very quickly and economically. We are now looking to proliferate this system in other application areas within our company,'' such as failure analysis, Verdi says.SAP recently announced the first in a series of xApps. X-Application Resource and Program Management lets companies align resources and projects with the available budget. Through this application, managers get to see how their projects are progressing, plus they get information on why certain projects are behind schedule or are under-resourced, so they can take corrective action.SAP's second xApp, scheduled for release later this year, will automate the merger and acquisition process. These applications leverage the mySAP Technology platform and support heterogeneous networks, whether based on Sun's J2EE or Microsoft .Net.EPeople released Teamwork 4.5 in November to help companies resolve customer problems that require support analysts, engineers, professional services and external partners working together.Web services - core requirementBecause these processes rely extensively on data from other systems, composite applications have to integrate easily with external applications at customer sites. Hence Web services-based architecture is a key requirement. Composite applications are expected to interact with external applications in two unique ways:1.) These applications need information that resides in other external applications. For example, the collaborative issue resolution software needs access to customer request details and service-level information, which typically sits within the CRM product. Instead of duplicating this information in two different systems, the issue resolution software uses Web services to access this information from the CRM system in real time. Both ePeople and TightLink are designed to easily integrate with external CRM systems to access this information.2.) Composite applications also are designed to deliver user access to the application through\u00a0portals\u00a0via Web-services calls (or\u00a0portlets ). For example, account managers typically access multiple systems - an ERP system to check on customer order status; CRM system to check the responsiveness to the customer's latest support issues; or even an engineering data system to understand the last engineering change request status. Many customers have homegrown portals for their account managers, so all such information is displayed as portlets in one application with one look and feel. A composite application needs to be designed so that its user interface is available through an external portal.As a result, composite applications vendors need to support a Web services-based architecture on both ends - for accessing information from other applications on the back end and for enabling user access to its application through a portal (or portlets) on the front end.Vendors such as ePeople and Niku support SOAP, which enables XML-based integration with external applications. They also are developing software to emerging portal standards such as\u00a0Web Services for Remote Portals \u00a0and Java Specification Request for Portlet API.EPeople also has developed support for Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML ), the next-generation XML-based standard for exchanging authentication and authorization information among disparate Web access management and security products. SAML lets customers seamlessly traverse between their composite applications and other external applications, without having to log on multiple times, and lets them centralize user account management.Niku, a project portfolio management vendor, is delivering this architecture in its upcoming upgrade of Niku 6. "We expect composite applications to become the Infospace of enterprise applications, and Web services\/open standards will play a critical role in this evolution," says Mark Moore, executive vice president of products and services at Niku.SAP recently announced a comprehensive platform called NetWeaver to build xApps. The NetWeaver platform leverages Web services technology to transparently integrate xApps with its mySAP applications and other external applications. To ensure that the platform enables integration with any off-the-shelf or homegrown application, NetWeaver is designed to interoperate with .Net and J2EE.As Web services standards evolve for application integration, it will become easier to build composite applications that easily snap into any business application.Composite applications have the following attributes:\u2022CollaborativeThey enable person-to-person collaboration as a part of the business process. As a result they must support both structured workflow-based collaboration and ad hoc team-based collaboration within their core architectures.\u2022Content-drivenThe relate knowledge, unstructured data and structured information within the context of a business process. As a result, capabilities such as document management or expertise management is core to the architecture of these systems.\u2022CooperativeComposite applications are designed to leverage information from external applications that support adjacent business processes. Hence they're designed using extensive Web services-based architectures.