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What will 'web services' do for us?

Posted on 2007-11-28
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We are a small, mid range service company.  The services we provide could be categorized as facility management.  We are looking to impress a few of our larger clients that we provide services to.  One of the ways we would like to do it is with technology. Specifically, web-enabled technology.  My question is related to getting advice on how to do that in 2008 and I would appreciate ideas.  Here is the typical scenario, they send us requests for service either via email or telephone.  We track/manage and report on the requests in an access database.  When it is time to bill them for the services, we use our main business system which has a SQL Server backend and then we send them invoices either via EDI or paper copies, etc.
Based on that simple overview- how can we collaborate with them?  For instance, it would be great if we could provide them with some live data from our project management (access) application (i.e. project status, notes, updates, open issues, etc...).  I know very little about web services, but is a web service sort of a bridge?  
We have limited technological resources currently- but we are willing to get people trained in these technology areas so that we can have added value to our customers.
All suggestions appreciated!   Thanks
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Question by:snyperj
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spoxox earned 2000 total points
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Your current architecture might make it difficult to realize the service goals you envision. In particular, MS Access is not a preferred option for secure, production-level web-based systems.

One relatively painless route to your goal might be to implement a web-based project management/support ticket/request tracking system. There are many; wikipedia will provide some lists. Some are open source (but you pay for service or customization). I don't have a particular recommendation; according to feature sheets I've read there should be a selection of products that would allow clients to sign in and see only their own "business", which might include issue tracking and history, etc. Such tools are generally based on more robust database systems; there are probably some built on SQL Server. I know of options based on MySQL and Oracle. One big issue: importing historical data into a new system might be very tedious and time consuming (read: manual).

If you are forced to live with your existing Access system, it should be possible to partially rewrite it, porting it to a more robust DBMS like SQL Server, and implement a front end that would allow client web login and control over what data clients can see. This might require more technical knowledge than migrating to a new system as proposed above.

In either case, it will be a significant effort that will take a fair amount of time. Best of luck.
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