Opening up enterprise back-end systems: the beat goes on

Summary:A new breed of 'systems of engagement' threatens to swamp existing 'systems of record.'

Are back-end enterprise systems ready for the new SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) reality? Forrester's James Staten doesn't think so, observing that the hyper-digital, analytics-driven entities that have sprung up across Silicon Valley are now creating a new model organizations across the world are attempting to emulate.

Staten points out that enterprises are adopting new systems of engagement, "built fast and cheap using cloud technologies and modern application architectures." These systems of engagement applications, he adds, bear no resemblance to traditional enterprise applications -- systems of record such as enterprise resource planning, financials, logistics, plant management and data warehouses.

The challenge is bringing these worlds together. "Systems of engagement aren’t fully divorced from your traditional business — they are extensions of it," Staten says. "And as such they are increasingly needing to connect back to these systems of record." But, in many cases, the enterprise back-end systems simply aren't ready.

There's nothing new about this challenge -- enterprises have been wrestling to bring these two areas together for well over a decade. Web to host, web services, service oriented architecture, virtualization, private cloud and APIs have been the focus of many efforts to connect systems of engagement with systems of record. 

But now, there's a great deal more urgency. Mobile computing and cloud for front-end engagements are rampant in enterprises. Users don't seek these systems merely to play games -- they want access to data and applications at the back end to do their jobs better. "New digitally disrupting applications speak a different language (REST), can come to you from multiple locations (web, mobile, device, third party services) and go from five requests per second to five million without forewarning," Staten says.

In many cases, these efforts have been successful, and some enterprises are ready. But there's plenty of work to be done, because a lot of applications and data remain locked away. All the same time, vendors drone on endlessly how open their applications and systems are to the new computing reality.

Staten emphasizes that it's not necessary to turn the whole enterprise upside down. But the push is on to expose important pieces of back-end enterprise applications as services that are accessible to this new computing scenario. This calls for a service layer in enterprises that support RESTful and standardized web services interfaces.

Yesterday, it was PCs that needed to get to systems of record. Today, it's mobile devices and cloud-based services. And the world keeps turning.

(Thumbnail photo: IBM Media Relations.)

Topics: Enterprise Software, Developer


Joe McKendrick is an author and independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. Joe is co-author, along with 16 leading industry leaders and thinkers, of the SOA Manifesto, which outlines the values and guiding principles of service orientation. He speaks frequently on cloud, SOA, data, and... Full Bio

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