Business-Centric Approach Reflected in IBM’s Recent SOA Announcements

Recently, IBM made a significant announcement updating the progress of its SOA-related products and services. As readers may recall, this announcement follows on the company’s product rollout last September (See Upside Research Brief from October, 2005) of a number of solutions that closely linked SOA and BPM and put IBM squarely in the BPM market. The latest announcement reinforces IBM’s leadership position in SOA and provides a number of significant product and service enhancements that reflect the company’s experience of how to effectively incorporate SOA into business processes.
The latest set of announcements for IBM reflect an extensive customer survey, where more than 1900 customers were asked about their experience with SOA and what they were looking for to successfully bring SOA to the enterprise. Among the results of the survey is a shift in focus on IBM’s part toward a “business-centric” approach to services oriented architectures. While many customers believed that SOA is important and even critical to their continued success, they were looking for solutions from IBM that clearly identified how to incorporate SOA into their everyday business practices. IBM listened to these requests and announced a comprehensive set of products, solutions, and services that can help its customers get started with SOA.
The newest set of solutions for SOA focus on five entry points for SOA, broken down by business oriented aspects (information, people, process) and IT-oriented aspects (connectivity, and reuse). This marks an evolution by IBM away from the traditional model, optimize, deploy strategy for enterprise BPM. The new five-entry-point approach enables both business users and IT to work together to build new services and automate processes around the major components of the enterprise: information, people, and processes.
There are 11 new products and 20 enhanced products that are part of this SOA announcement, and they cover the spectrum of the IBM product portfolio. In addition, eight new service offerings were announced to facilitate SOA implementation, along with the announcement that more than 90,000 business consultants are to be trained to assist with SOA adoption. IBM also announced enhancements to its SOA roadmap, and stressed its continued support for effective governance and management of business services and processes.
Using the Portal to Drive SOA and Process Optimization One of the most significant areas of development and new enhancements in this latest announcement is around the portal. While IBM’s Portal is already a market-leader, the latest enhancements reflect a significant shift in purpose for enterprise portals. No longer just a window through which to view information and participate in business processes, IBM is now providing the business end user with the tools to help develop business services and composite applications. With its WebSphere Portal 6.0 release, the portal now becomes a powerful end user tool to build SOA-based applications at the end user level. By enabling users to create their own applications and services through the portal, IBM is taking the initiative to meet a long-standing customer request to give users more control to help encourage SOA and process-driven information consumption adoption.
Another important component of the strategy to empower end users with the tools to build their own services and create business processes is providing a centralized method for storing and managing the resulting services. This is especially important in a distributed enterprise, and is critical for the end-user driven development to be successful. IT needs a reliable, way of managing the services that are created. IBM has added a repository to its SOA offering that can effectively store and manage all aspects of composite applications. The Web Services Service Registry and Repository provides the ability to store and manage metadata across both the development and the deployment sides of composite applications. It supports lifecycle management of all corporate assets related to SOA and enables policy enforcement around use and organization of services. Although it will not be released until later in 2006, IBM’s focus on this area of SOA lifecycle repository support is a very important consideration for organizations committing to an SOA approach.
Upside Uptake
SOA is more than tools and technologies. In order for enterprise organizations to effectively start to implement an SOA approach and gain the potential benefits available, they need to apply SOA tools and technologies, but they also need to have their business strategy coordinated with their IT strategy-something that IBM clearly demonstrates it understands with this set of announcements.
Implementing a successful SOA isn’t simply deploying some tools or converting some applications. A successful SOA strategy will harness the power of people, process and information to help drive a more efficient and effective business model. Deploying an SOA infrastructure without changing the way you deal with information and collaboration will limit the effectiveness of the solution.
An important aspect of refining business processes and transitioning to SOA is taking an information-centric approach-both to people and processes. In today’s time-sensitive business environment, people (and processes) need real-time visibility into business processes-but not just data. They need trusted information, delivered in context, that can become the driver for transformation, so the business can make the right set of decisions to drive their products and services. For example, some organizations are using the opportunity of transitioning to SOA to rethink the management of customer data (or-perhaps more appropriately-they’re using the requirement to rethink their management of customer data to transition to SOA). Master data management, or the ability to create a single view of the customer without writing dozens of custom applications, continues to be a critical task for many organizations and an example of one that will be well supported by IBM’s new announcements.
For many organizations, our research highlights that often the best way to approach SOA is to start with an underperforming process, analyze it, model it, optimize it, and then deploy and refine it using SOA or BPM technologies. While it may not be a complete SOA solution, each individual project should help the business evolve their business models into re-useable services that can be reassembled and redeployed in a real-time or dynamic fashion.
Upside Research believes that the latest announcements from IBM continue to solidify the company’s leadership position in SOA, BPM and process-driven integration and information consumption . Upside Research has continuously mentioned the importance of placing the tools for business process management in the hands of the end user. Without strong, active involvement by end users, business process automation and application creation will inevitably fail. IBM’s latest announcements are in alignment with this philosophy, and Upside Research is impressed with the scope of IBM’s portal-based tools for end user participation in composite application development and BPM. The new WebSphere Portal 6.0 places productivity tools in the hands of the end user and enables them to create composite applications that reflect their most pressing business needs. The results are a win-win for the enterprise. End users are involved and the applications reflect business goals, while IT retains the ability to manage and control the repository of services that can be used to create applications.
The up-leveling of its SOA message to the business level is another strong point of this IBM announcement. Upside Research is a strong supporter of ensuring that any technology solution has close ties to the business purpose and ultimate business goals. By moving away from the model/optimize/deploy messaging and toward the five-points-of-entry for SOA, IBM is making a theoretical technology approach fully tangible and consumable by its customer base. The enhanced products and new offerings combine to provide end users with a multitude of different ways to begin adopting SOA today. This is a critical aspect of building customer success stories, and IBM clearly understands what is at stake. While all of the components of this latest SOA suite of solutions are not currently available, they will be rolled out over the next two quarters, into the eager arm of the customer and partner base. Throughout this time, Upside Research expects that IBM will continue to set the bar for SOA adoption in the enterprise, and continue to innovate its product offering as its substantial customer base becomes further involved in adopting services-oriented architectures with a business-centric approach.