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AT&T Makeover Includes Web Services

Striving to update its products and image, AT&T Wednesday introduced a Web services offering to help corporations and government agencies share data with suppliers, partners and customers.

AT&T WebService Connect allows different applications from different sources to communicate without time-consuming custom coding. And because it is XML-based , it's not tied to any one operating system or programming language.

Developed over the last year with partner Grand Central Communications, WebService Connect plays into AT&T broader strategy of evolving from a long-distance phone company to a provider of enterprise network services.

The Bedminster, N.J., company, which has seen its traditional long-distance business swoon because of increased competition, believes it can move "up the computing stack" to higher value services because of its extensive Internet protocol network and close relationships with enterprise customers.

"This takes us out of merely bits and bytes and moves us into reliable messaging infrastructure," AT&T's David Greenebaum told internetnews.com.

The service will be rolled out gradually in the coming months. It starts at about $34,000 per month, although prices could run higher depending on usage. In terms of its telecom competitors, AT&T believes it is farthest along in offering Web services to its customers.

Primarily, WebService Connect will appeal to companies with a lot of inter-enterprise contact, Greenebaum said. There's very little chance these companies and their suppliers, partners and customers all work on the same computing platforms and applications.

However, large companies, especially in sectors like banking, are also grappling with different systems, making integration difficult. This need is only magnified as the financial service industry continues to contract though mergers.

An offering like WebService Connect should appeal to CIOs as a way to streamline processes and get an overall view of their operation, Greenebaum said. The first announced customer for the service is Thomson Financial, a provider of information and technology to the financial community.

A spokeswoman for the company, a subsidiary of Thomson Corp. , was not immediately available to discuss how many customers or partners are tied into the network.

In a statement, Thomson Financial CIO Jeff Scott said "customers can use our services and applications on demand -- in the format and on the systems of their choice."

The Web services concept became popular about two years ago, but its adoption has been slowed because of a paucity of standards concerning management, interoperability and security. Microsoft , IBM are among the vendors developing specifications for the technology.