IBM Unleashes a Barrage of SOA Announcements
Published: April 10, 2006
by Mary Lou Roberts
If quantity is in any way connected to quality or importance, then IBM's announcement last Monday new software and services to help customers adopt service oriented architecture, or SOA, was a humdinger. All in all, Big Blue rolled out 11 new products (some of which had been previously announced, and not all of which have yet been released) and 20 enhancements to existing products--all designed to speed up adoption and implementation of SOA.
Leading off the announcement, Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive of IBM's Software Group, explained that "an SOA can play a strategic role in any company. . . because it enables people to collaborate and innovate, identify new business opportunities, and move the customers' needs to the forefront." There have been major barriers to adoption of a SOA, including avoiding additional costs and ensuring that investments are allocated toward a business strategy that will withstand market fluctuations and company changes. It is these barriers that the products and services behind last week's broad announcements hope to bring down.
Mills explained that IBM has identified five entry points that enable customers to move more easily into SOA. These include people-centric, process-centric, and information-centric approaches, along with connectivity and the ability to reuse existing assets. Four of the new software releases are targeted at these starting points, along with a set of industry-specific models that support SOA.
- WebSphere Portal version 6.0 (scheduled for delivery sometime in the next six months) integrates IBM Workplace and collaborative technologies, facilitating the building and deployment of composite applications that can be tailored by industry, role, or task. Robert LeBlanc, general manager for WebSphere products, also explained that this new release takes advantage of AJAX to create a more responsive user environment. Further, it will provide a workflow builder that utilizes the process engine from WebSphere Process Server, open standards-based software powered by WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus (ESB), and templates designed to accelerate application deployment.
- WebSphere Business Monitor version 6.0 is designed to deliver a process-centric approach to SOA by providing an aerial view of the business and letting customers proactively identify potential issues before they impact productivity. New features include business alerts, links to third-party reports that combine real-time performance and historical analysis, and scorecards to tract the status and metrics of projects.
- The delivery of industry-specific models will augment the information-centric approach to SOA through the IBM Banking Information FrameWork and the IBM Insurance Application Architecture models, which each provide a set of critical processes, workflows, and activities to help organizations re-engineer their business processes in these two industries. Presumably, other industries will get their own frameworks in the future.
- WebSphere Application Server version 6.1 and WebSphere Commerce version 6.0 focus on enabling reuse and easier SOA management. WebSphere Application Server's new features include servlets based on the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) that is at the heart of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telecommunications. SIP support will reduce the complexity of SOA as it grows to include additional applications such as voice, video, and instant messaging; new security feature such as default security configurations and a default user registry for improved identity management; and the IBM Installation Factory, a tool to streamline the installation process. New features included in WebSphere Commerce include a set of tools that enable merchants to replicate the online experience in their stores to deliver more personalized customer service, and simplified development and management of transactions.
In addition to the product announcements, IBM's Global Services is ramping up its SOA services offering to help customers model, assemble, deploy, and manage SOA throughout the lifecycle, said Mills. These services include the Infrastructure Services Readiness Engagement for SOA to help assess and ensure that the customers' infrastructure is prepared to undergo the creation of an SOA. The IBM Design and Implementation Services for SOA offers support for WebSphere, DataPower appliances, and Tivoli management and security for SOA. And, for management, IBM will now offer the IT Service Management Design for SOA, IBM Performance Testing for SOA, and the SOA Business Dashboard, along with new maintenance services. Finally, for training, IBM is offering the SOA entry points skills training program that will also be delivered throughout Global Services.
But last Monday's announcement seems less about "wow" technology than about putting a new wrapper on IBM's SOA offering for presentation to the market.
Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst for ZapThink was briefed on the announcement before it was made, and met again with IBM on the topic this past Thursday. He applauds IBM for "trying to put SOA into a business context" rather than simply a technology context, and for attempting to explain the advantage of SOA to a business audience. Further, Bloomberg believes that the announcement "leverages the hard work that IBM has done over the years to bring the various components of their offering such as WebSphere, Tivoli, DB2, and Rational, into a coherent story and offering."
Judith Hurwitz, president of Hurwitz & Associates, applauds the announcement as a demonstration of the depth of IBM's offering for SOA. "SOA is not just a flash in the pan," she says. "People are doing this. It's a journey that people have to build towards. But in reality, we aren't reinventing the wheel. It's all about incremental standardization and interfaces, and we are fast moving toward a place where there are enough codified standards to do this."
"The most common question that we get from customers around SOA is: What are some example use cases where SOA will make business sense for my organization?" says Dennis Gaughan, research director for AMR Research. "People are looking for examples of where others have been successful with SOA to help them identify opportunities within their organizations. This announcement is largely about helping customers identify at least a few potential use cases. IBM and the other vendors selling SOA concepts and technologies will need to provide even more examples with concrete benefits that prospective customers can use to help frame a business case."
To that end, IBM rolled out two of their best SOA users from the automotive industry.
Pep Boys (of Manny, Moe, and Jack fame) is the nation's leading automotive and after-market retail and service chain. Bob Berckman, assistant vice president, discussed his company's implementation of SOA and the ways in which it has helped them to "pinpoint gaps in productivity and customer service before they negatively impact our business."
Jim Haney, CIO of Harley-Davidson (who boasted that his company's customers probably have more tattoos than any other company), also reviewed the company's experiences in using SOA to integrate the various stages associated with motorcycle loans, including credit applications, credit approvals, and loan origination. "It's easy to see how the success of Harley-Davidson's financial services SOA project can be repeated in other parts of our company as the need to integrate different sources of information and automate processes is not exclusive to credit and loan origination," Haney explained.
Another interesting aspect of the announcement is that it seemed largely targeted at the mid market. Rather than rolling out the mega-corporations as primary examples of successful SOA implementation, IBM chose the mid-tier as spokesmen for the benefits of SOA. Indeed, Mills even stressed the importance of the SMB market for IBM in its SOA offering.
Bloomberg acknowledges that, to IBM, this thrust toward SMB means "the bigger part of the 'M.' IBM has had some success there. But for smaller companies, SOA is more about business-to-business integration that it is about internal integration."
To be sure, there are SOA benefits to be gleaned from both business-to-business integration and internal integration. But the smaller end of SMB will most likely find it a challenge to locate the dollar and human resources to approach SOA actively right now. Further, it's difficult to imagine the Global Services behemoth making a concerted effort to spend its resources going after these accounts. Nevertheless, SOA success in the "M" sector will likely trickle down as time moves on, and, as Bloomberg noted, the "S" side will be pulled in through business-to-business integration, they will soon follow.
"Whether IBM is successful moving down to the mid-market remains to be seen," said Bloomberg in agreement. However, he also believes that, while most of the talk thus far has been about how SOA will impact large enterprises, smaller companies will be affected, too. "When it comes to the mid-market, SOA might level the playing field, making it quicker and less expensive for small and midsize businesses to assemble and maintain innovative software that provides competitive advantage. We have already seen the major application and infrastructure vendors develop or tailor existing products to target mid-market. Whether they will be able to go downmarket successfully remains to be seen, but it presents the biggest growth market for the vendors that already have some of the lion's share of the large enterprise. In fact, a likely initial use of SOA's among large enterprises will be extending external-facing applications to smaller partners, which now have an SOA-based means of collaborating. When speaking about the benefits of SOA, people always focus on agility and reuse. These are the most obvious, but the potential network effect of companies in all sizes embracing SOA might be the biggest benefit of all."