I have been spending quite a bit of time these days at Cloud Computing events. Some of these events, like the Cloud Camps are wonderful opportunities for customers, vendors, consulted, and interested parties to exchange ideas in a very interactive format. If you haven’t been to one I strongly recommend them. Dave Nielsen who is one of the founders of the Cloud Camp concept has done a great job not just jump starting these events but participating in most of them around the world. In addition, Marcia Kaufman and I have been conducting a number of half and full day Introduction to Cloud Computing seminars in different cities. What has been the most interesting observation from my view is that customers are no longer sitting on the side lines with their arms crossed. Customers are ready and eager to jump into to this new computing paradigm. Often they are urged on by business leaders who instinctively see the value in turning computing into a scalable utility. So, for the first time, there is a clear sense that there may well be money to be made.
While a lot of the focus lately has been on software developers, it is interesting to look at the channel as a huge opportunity to bring the cloud into a broader set of business customers. I recently helped to run a couple of workshops with Sandy Carter, vice president of Software Group Channels for IBM. Channel partners and distributors will be an increasingly important part of the cloud ecosystem. These companies typically have the organization and ability to reach into specialized customer markets with solutions. These workshops are very interesting for a couple of reasons. First, many distributors and channel partners are looking for guidance and direction about what the cloud is and what it means for these business. Second, once these partners understand what resources are available to them they are in an excellent position to become a conduit for change. The two workshops that IBM aptly named “Cool Cloud Cash” brought cloud computing into sharp focus for these partners. These are savvy business leaders. Once they understand how they can leverage cloud computing software, hardware, and services they start to see dollar signs. In a sense, the channel is the most important avenue to bring cloud computing to the rest of the market — not just the early adopters. IBM has a renewed focus on channel partners and is focused particularly on expanding its cloud partner ecosystem. One important aspect is new certifications in cloud computing. Given the fact that this is an immature market, it is important that distributors and channel partners are able to demonstrate to their customers that they have deep knowledge. It is especially important that platform vendors like IBM work closely with partners since they are both selling and representing them in the market.
Last week I attending IBM’s Impact conference which Sandy Carter, VP of SOA for IBM contends is the largest SOA conference in the world. With more than 6,000 attendees all focused on SOA, I think she might be right. So, it is interesting to listen to see what the key messages and issues. I have some time to take stock of what I heard and saw at the meeting. This is the second year of the Impact conference and it is interesting to see the difference a year makes
While I could go on for a long time about the details of the conference, I wanted to give you my top three impressions of the meeting.
Impression One. SOA is about end-to-end business process. IBM is maturing with the market. When IBM first started on its SOA journey, the focus was primarily on the Enterprise Service Bus but that has changed. While the ESB is still important (although there are camps in the industry who think it isn’t so important anymore), there is a new focus that is more holistic. IBM is now much more focused on end-to-end business process. I think this is an important move for customers and for IBM’s go to market strategy. It is a more business centric view and approach to SOA. I think that this is a testament to the fact that SOA is starting to mature. Customers are beginning to think of SOA not just as a substitute for applications integration but as a way of managing business. This is a step in the right direction.
Impression Two. SOA gets Smart. IBM is using the Smart SOA brand as a natural evolution of its SOA strategy. I come away from the conference understanding that IBM is beginning to leverage its experience with thousands of customers into a set of best practices that are codified into a set of industry frameworks. Many of these frameworks are culled from IBM Global Services experience working with customers. Pre-defined and extensible frameworks are an essential solution to the problem customers face in trying to pull together the pieces of a SOA architecture from scratch. Part of IBM’s journey as a SOA vendor is to pull its elements of software together into a cohesive SOA approach. I observed that IBM is working to create a SOA approach that leverages its five software areas: Tivoli (service management, security, etc.), Rational (development and quality), Information Management (databases, search, content management, information infrastructure, information services, etc.), WebSphere (application server, enterprise service bus, etc.), and Lotus (collaboration and social computing). Implementing a long term SOA strategy really does require all of these areas to be intertwined. It is not an easy path for any vendor.
Impression Three: It’s about the customer. IBM made it clear that it was putting its focus on customers at this meeting. There were more than 250 sessions run by its customers. It was pretty overwhelming with often more than 50 sessions going on simultaneously. Our team ran a SOA for Dummies session and had standing room only. We weren’t sure what to expect. Were all IBM customers too smart to attend a introduction to SOA session? We found that, in fact, a lot of attendees that we met during our session are figuring out the basics: how to work with the business, how to think about governance, and what does it mean to capture code out of an existing application and make it into a reusable service. Many of the other customers we spoke with at the meeting are well along in their SOA journey. They are getting real business value because they are looking at SOA from a customer experience perspective.
I was struck by the comments made by Jim Haney, CIO of Harley-Davidson who started off the conference by driving onto the stage on a motorcycle (a Harley, of course!). His words were so good that I’ll quote some of what he said (If I got some words wrote, you’ll have to forgive me). He spoke about the customer facing SOA application the company has put into production. “SOA is not about technology, it is about how you use technology to change the business.” The application called rideplanner.com is designed to help Harley customers plan trips. The application is intended to enhance the customer experience. It is not as simple as providing a trip map, rather as Jim explained, “it is about defining the process and bringing all these technology together to create an end to end experience. It is about pulling everything together with soa to change the way the customer interacts with us.” He pointed to the need to determine the right route to travel and what sights are along the way. Is it a long ride or a short one? Are there events that a Harley rider might be interested in? “We are creating a different customer experience. It isn’t about the individual transactions. We had to look at the person behind the application — not just at the technology. It is a cultural change.” I think that says it all…
I have just gotten back from the Object Management Group’s SOA Consortium meeting. This is a very good advocacy group consisting of primarily corporate customers with a few collection of assorted vendors and integrators. It is a very thoughtful and pragmatic group. I have been a member of the steering committee for the past year and enjoyed participating in the weekly conference calls. We have discussed important issues ranging from maturity models, to SOA governance, to many different best practices. Learning from each other is a powerful theme and focus.
What made this meeting fun for me was being able to share the podium with Sandy Carter, head of marketing for SOA for IBM. We both presented our observations about the direction of SOA for the group. I thought I would share some of Sandy’s comments and then some of my own.
Sandy’s talk focused on two major areas: the learnings from more than 5700 SOA engagements at IBM and the overwhelming requirements for SOA skills and ROI experience with SOA engagements.
So, here are some of the key takeaways from Sandy’s talk:
1.While everyone talks about how programming skills are being outsourced, IBM’s extensive surveys have shown that the an overwhelming number of the respondents found that the biggest inhibitor to the adoption of SOA is the lack of skills — primarily the ability to understand technology tied to the needs of the business. IBM found that 80% of these companies are going to increase their SOA resources this year and 60% of the companies are planning to retrain their existing staff for SOA.
2. Sandy mentioned a new study IBM had sponsored by the London School of Economics that found that companies that implemented SOA increased revenue by 2% — companies that focused on changes in automating business process increased revenue by 18%. Pretty powerful numbers.
3. In another study focused on interviewing hundreds of CEOs, IBM found that SOA is top of mind with the hundreds of CEOs that IBM interviewed. Sandy pointed out in her talk that these CEO from some of the largest companies in the world see the direct link between SOA and business agility.
One of the most interesting issues that Sandy mentioned in her talk was the emerging a Service Science major at major universities. IBM has established a partnership with 200 Universities to help create this new discipline. Teaching MBA students about the SOA principle of creating a service oriented approach to business/technology is critical I would love to see this type of program grow dramatically. I think that many universities are still stuck in the 1980s when it comes to teaching about the intersection of technology and business.
My talk at the meeting centered on SOA lessons from 2007 and predictions for 2008. I’ll give you a synopsis of what I said about this year. My next entry will be a full set of predictions for next year.
My main observation about 2007 was that it was a year of learning about SOA. Our book, SOA for Dummies had just been published at the very end of 2006. It was becoming clear that there was a hunger for information about what this new technology approach was all about. So, 2007 was a year for learning. No market or technology can mature without starting with a lot of missteps. It was also a year when people made lots of mistakes including:
1. Let’s code thousands of cool web services and see what happens — guess what…no one knew what to do with them!
2. Let’s create a corporate wide SOA implementation this year — what’s wrong with boiling the ocean? (too obvious to make a comment on this one)
3. If we implement an Enterprise Service Bus we are all done with SOA…right? — wrong!
4. Hey, we are reusing a service in the same application but we’re not getting very much value….(try reusing in a different application)
Clearly, these aren’t all the mistakes we made in 2007 but it gives you an idea of what I have been seeing. One of the biggest issues that I saw in 2007 was the lack of collaboration between the business and technical sides of the business. In addition, there was simply too much political jocking for control.
But before you think that I am just in a negative mood…I saw many big successes with SOA in 2007. Many companies are understanding that SOA is, in fact, a business strategy based on codifying business services that represent best practices for business policy and process. These companies are taking a long view — not expecting instant results. Many of these organizations are finding strong returns on investments but they would rather not tip off the competition. Before starting one SOA project, our team had to sign three different non-disclosure documents!
I think that we are at the end of the over hyped stage of the SOA market. It is inevitable in any new market that it begins with unreasonable expectations. When customers start using the approach to solve real problems, it is always harder than the hype would suggest. The reality is that transforming software from purpose driven, single use applications to flexible, agile, and reusable services that are loosely coupled is hard work. In fact, the fact that we are getting over the hype phase actually means that SOA is real!