As we boarded the plane for our return from IBM Impact SOA conference last week, we couldn’t help but think about the emerging verticalization of SOA. That is, outside of place like Wall Street, which tens to roll its own systems, that there is relatively little appetite for raw technology frameworks and that customers will want domain-relevant templates from which they could layer in their added IP.
We noted last week that verticalization of SOA would set up a new feeding frenzy pitting traditional application providers, middle tier application composers (such as Business Process Management), and systems integrators against one another.
A follow up discussion for Dana Gardner’s Briefings Direct podcast last Friday confirmed our thoughts – although panelists were divided as to ultimate impact. Panelist Jim Kobelius termed this as “hugely disruptive” to the application vendor ecosystem, Joe McKendrick characterized IBM’s aggressive stance in developing vertical SOA as “taking a lesson from Thomas Watson” in positioning itself as business, rather than computing consultants.
Meanwhile David Linthicum countered that this was “not a seismic shift,” in that the apps world is evolving toward composite apps, and that consulting organizations like IBM’s Global Business Services have long developed frameworks that they could repurpose for different engagements. Nonetheless, GBS excluded, Linthicum added that the Accentures of the world have largely been blindsided and are playing catchup ball when it comes to developing vertical SOA frameworks.
The question eventually boiled down to who would own the innovation that comes when you develop a service framework that covers the business processes in your sector, because that’s where you develop the processes that actually run your business. Todd Biske ventured that it would be dangerous for any organization to outsource its process innovation, either to a consulting firm that would develop the extensions, or to a software vendor that would productize it.
Of course, we’ve been down this path before. Enterprises faced that issue as they frantically reengineered their business processes to fit SAP during the run-up to Y2K. Yet as organizations BPR’ed themselves to death, they still wound up with millions of dollars in customization bills. On this go round we still expect plenty of customization, but hopefully the flexibility of SOA will mean that you won’t have to spend millions to do so.
That’s where Gardner brought up an interesting alternative. Maybe the route is to find a mechanism for open sourcing the IP covering the vertical extensions to SOA, that result in assets such as component business or process models. Our take is that the only way that will happen is if vertical industry groups, such as RosettaNet, pick up the slack, and that something like the Apache license (where you don’t have to donate your customizations back to the community) be used for distributing content.