Architecture and Hardware E-services


As I sit here considering how to introduce this special section on e-services, I'm reminded of a superb experience I recently had filing my U.S. federal income tax return. In lieu of a $400 fee for paying someone to prepare my modestly complex 2002 financial circumstances, and having moved to a new state far from my long-time accountant, I decided to take a chance on one of the new tax filing services available online. This would be, in fact, my first substantial e-services experience as a consumer. Given I was dealing with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the fact that thousands of dollars were at stake, it was no mere exercise to me.
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The IRS does not yet provide direct e-filing; taxpayers must work through an authorized vendor who files for them, and there are a host of commercial providers ready to fill the position of intermediary. I chose the Intuit e-service and in so doing immersed myself in a full range of consumer possibilities. Namely, I had the option of downloading their tax preparation software for personal use on my computer, or I could use an online tax preparation utility, fill out the forms in a Web browser interface, and file them electronically. For a pure digital experience, I could even elect to have my refund deposited directly into my checking account. It seemed only technologically fitting that I choose the whole e-package: online execution, e-filing, and direct deposit of the refund. And I’m pleased to report it went without a hitch.

E-services represent a business model whose time has most certainly come. They provide a time-saving functionality that busy consumers can use readily. As you read the articles in this special section, keep in mind that experts in the field do not yet agree on the true definition of e-services. Truth is, there are so many people from so many technical and academic specialties within the e-services arena that the sky’s the limit in terms of interpretation. If you can imagine a way of electronically delivering something of value to a customer that will solve some problem or provide some usefulness to make their life easier, you have a viable example of an e-service.

From the product marketing perspective, an e-service could be any electronically enabled aspect of customer utility, both in the form of a digital purchase or an electronically mediated service after the sale in support of previous purchases. The marketing experts featured in this section describe a wide range of possibilities for digitally delivered products and customer services. The marketing authors here, well known in marketing literature, include Journal of Marketing editor Ruth Bolton, Journal of Service Research editor Roland Rust and his colleague P.K. Kannan, as well as noted services marketing author Doug Hoffman. The marketers see e-services as a natural outgrowth of e-commerce, but they also view services through a product-oriented lens; this is only natural.

Marketers see e-services as a natural outgrowth of e-commerce, but they also view services through a product-oriented lens; this is only natural. Technologists naturally view e-services as Web-delivered software functionality, often characterized under the rubric of "Web services."

Technologists naturally view e-services as Web-delivered software functionality, often characterized under the rubric of "Web services." This client/server model of "app-on-tap" delivery via the Internet is a popular new development concept, described in technical detail by IBM’s Heather Kreger and her colleagues Christopher Ferris and Joel Farrell. Hongjun Song of provides practical examples of how the Web services model plays out in practice.

Novel perspectives on electronically mediated customer service and digital service delivery logistics are discussed by the research team of Kathryn Brohman, Rick Watson, Gabe Picoloi, and A. Parasuraman, as well as the MIS/logistics team of Neal Shaw and Chris Craighead. Broham et al. truly span paradigms; co-author Rick Watson has already introduced the services-quality perspective to the MIS literature. And preeminent services quality expert, A. Parasuramen, is a former editor of the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, and a progenitor of the eminent SERVQUAL model of services quality.

Rounding out the section is an unusual treat—two old friends, who also happen to be long-time competitors from two companies heavily invested in setting the standards for e-services architecture, have agreed to debate each other in print over the relative merits of their firm’s respective approaches to the e-services architectural models. Joseph Williams is Master Architect of Sun Professional Services; Gerry Miller is CTO of Microsoft’s U.S. Central Region. Both have traveled the country engaging in public debates about the emerging e-services architecture espoused by their companies (that is, Microsoft’s .NET and Sun’s J2EE) to various industry and academic audiences. Their first debate in print is surely an unusual and interesting technical encounter.

The marketing and IT fields both have claims on the emerging e-services paradigm, as they did with e-commerce at the outset. That being the case, there are multiple perspectives to this important new business model and emerging set of technological standards that should be considered. We hope we’ve effectively managed to survey the range of expertise and the richness of potential views spanning these areas of thought by assembling some of the leading thinkers and managers to represent the emerging model of e-services and its implications for your consideration.

As for myself, having enjoyed a flawless e-services execution of my tax return, I’m already looking for more useful and interesting ways to get things done with Web-mediated application delivery. Travel? Instant access to online software rentals? Online financial management? Data storage for hire? There are endless possibilities for users to get things done online and for companies to help them do so at a profit. I have only begun to enjoy "Web serving."

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