The graphic below is a simple, yet representative, illustration of a typical workflow process within any organization. Transactions are captured by your front line data entry employees and deposited into you information systems as data. Knowledge workers subsequently massage the data and attempt to turn it into information. Information is subsequently routed to individuals that require it.
This type of workflow happens, in most organizations, via loosely coupled manual processes. Sure, individual components of the workflow (i.e. transactions, analytics, and messaging) are automated, but the workflow itself is not. Attempts to automate workflow have met with mixed (mostly poor) results. The low success ratio is due mostly to the complexity inherent in applying enabling technology across internal organizational boundaries, for reasons that have been previously expounded upon (ad nauseum).
Now, consider what is involved in a typical E-Business system. It usually involves applying enabling technology across corporate boundaries in order to reduce inefficiencies within the supply chain. In essence, workflows from different corporate entities are being linked together in what is now called a business web (b-web). There is no doubt that b-webs, enabled by web services technology, will have a powerful impact going forward.
But let us be clear about one thing: the complexity involved in making b-webs real is greater than anything we have attempted heretofore, notwithstanding compelling technology and vendor claims to the contrary. The technology offerings keep improving, and should certainly be leveraged, while at the same time recognizing that most (but not all) of the complexity lies within our processes and our abilities, as human beings, to effectively communicate.