IBM (NYSE: IBM) has announced, in collaboration with the European Union, industry and academia, the launch of a research consortium which aims to help businesses more easily take advantage of Internet-based services - or "e-services" - to create collaborative business operations and achieve shared business goals.

The unique effort focuses on the development of a new computer science model that will enable organizations to greatly accelerate the typically time-intensive process around the coordination of e-services and increase the automation and efficiency around deploying new e-service blends. The research will enable even small to mid-sized businesses to create or join into flexible e-service blends, without investing in expensive IT expertise. The initiative will create open-source software to enable many organizations around the world take advantage of the technology.

"Up until now, organizations have had to invest significant time and money in conventional, mostly manual blending and customizing efforts to enable their e-business service operations to communicate and work collaboratively," said Dr. Fabiana Fournier, consortium leader and scientist at IBM Research. "ACSI represents a new combination of computer science principles that are designed to enable businesses to retain a laser focus on operations and goals as they achieve new efficiencies in blending and interleaving e-services."

In the consortium, IBM researchers are collaborating with experts from: Sapienza Universita degli Studi di Roma, Italy; Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Italy; Imperial College Of Science, Technology and Medicine, UK; Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, Netherlands; University of Tartu, Estonia; Indra Software Labs SLU, Spain; Collibra NV, Belgium.

Called Artifact-Centric Service Interoperation (ACSI), the project tackles the challenges faced by most e-businesses today in simplifying and streamlining the costly process of blending multiple, separately managed e-services into a dynamic, organic whole. The consortium plans to demonstrate that the new framework can reduce the cost of creating industry-specific service blends by 40% over conventional techniques.

As governments and businesses across Europe increasingly rely on information and e-services from a myriad of industries and sectors -- from transportation, energy and water, to housing and health care -- there is a growing desire among them to have the ability to combine the core competencies their proprietary systems offer with core competencies of other organizations, to achieve greater results that transfer into enhanced, smarter, more cost-effective customer services.

"Today, companies need to invest a considerable amount of time, expertise, and maintenance to develop ad hoc proprietary systems that coordinate these myriad e-services," explained Professor Guiseppe De Giacomo, University of Rome La Sapienza. "More often than not, these systems are application specific and do not have the flexibility to support variations that stem from different geographical regions or shifts in the marketplace, and are not able to scale up as the business grows."

In addition to the researchers' projected aim to achieve at least 40% reduction in design and deployment time of e-services blends, the ACSI framework is anticipated to enable automation of about 90% of the data transformations needed to support them. Taken together, this translates into a dramatic savings over conventional approaches to designing, deploying, maintaining, and joining into environments that support e-service blends.

ACSI is based on the fundamentally new notion of an "interoperation hub," which was introduced by IBM Research in 2009. Interoperation hubs provide intuitive, flexible environments around which e-service blends can form. A second pillar of the ACSI framework is provided by the concept of dynamic artifact or business entity. These artifacts represent business processes, and are based on a holistic combination of data and how that data changes as the artifact moves through its life cycle. Dynamic artifacts have already been used in dozens of IBM business transformation projects to enable new insights, efficiencies, and cost savings. Partners in the consortium will work together to develop rich extensions and applications for these basic concepts.

ACSI interoperation hubs will be provided as SaaS – Software As A Service – and hosted in cloud environments. This will enable businesses to enjoy a pay-per-use model for data storage, task executions, and service integration costs. The scalability, simplicity, and flexibility of this approach makes the ACSI technology relevant for small and large organizations alike, bringing immediate benefit to broad segments of the marketplace.

"We are pushing the frontiers of e-services by providing a highly data-centered approach to combine them, and we are pushing the frontiers of cloud computing by incorporating a semantically rich enabler of e-service blending into the cloud," explains Dr. Richard Hull, an IBM Research Manager and key scientist on the project. "We expect the ACSI interoperation hub framework to provide a paradigm shift in the way e-services, and more generally enterprises, can work together."

According to consortium leader Fournier, the ACSI technology is relevant across a broad array of industries, including government, energy, healthcare, supply chain logistics, and heavy manufacturing. These industries face significant challenges when they are required to hand-off data and processes between various silos-even within their own organizations. ACSI interoperation hubs will provide a generic, yet highly customizable, solution for systematically handing off data and processing from one application or organization to another.