I spent a few days this week in Orlando, Florida but I didn't visit Disney's Magic Kingdom. Instead, I was at Tibco's user conference.
Usually I rarely get to go to user conferences but I wanted to see Tibco in its environment. Tibco has been one of my earliest supporters in this brave new world of online publishing/blogging at Silicon Valley Watcher, and this was good chance to learn more about the company, and the IT industry.
Tibco is a well established IT enterprise software company but what it does is complex IT. The company has technology that helps enterprises connect up multiple layers of legacy IT systems into a single, real-time business system.
And now, with the advent of the age of the services oriented architecture (SOA), as opposed to the database centric IT architecture--Tibco is addressing the upper-most layers of the enterprise stack--the business process management. This goes beyond applications and into the realm of where IBM, the world's largest services company, has strong ambitions.
Tibco might be David to IBM's Goliath but the battle doesn't require either one to lose because there is a huge potential market that can support many vendors as it expands over the next few years.
CEO Vivek Ranadive's keynote on Wednesday morning stated the case for business process automation in reasonable and rational terms. And Mr Ranadive wasn't shy about hitting out at the enterprise software application vendors. He said that IT departments had been "extorted" by enterprise applications vendors for many years.
Enterprise software application vendors have earned a reputation for being expensive to license, operate, and integrate. Not to mention the failure of software enterprise applications in markets such as supply chain management. That is something which has made cash-strapped IT departments very unhappy.
Mr Ranadive believes that corporations should leap to the next stage of IT design by adopting a services oriented architecture rather than focusing on applications. This approach takes away the need for a central database, it democratizes data, and it is an event-driven system rather than relying on constant polling for data.
That means anything that inputs data into the system is at a peer-to-peer level. This makes communications of data far easier compared with having to deal with hierarchies of IT systems, and also IT silos around each departmental group.
And by focusing on services, corporations can focus on the business process rather than trying to adapt to fit the business process construct of an application. Mr Ranadive made the point that when everyone has access to the same applications and IT systems, the differentiation between competitors is in their business processes. And that is why business processes should not be commoditized but kept unique.
A business process is like a story narrative that describes a series of steps that result in an action; and the goal is to automate the business process. But that content is unique and that's what makes a business unique.
Another advantage of this approach is that if you could automate all the business processes of a corporation, you would be able to use your modules to quickly construct additional business processes and deploy them in a matter of days.
Partnerships with other companies become much easier because SOA enables the sharing of real-time data. That means you could bring several corporations together for short-term ventures.
And it would make M&A deals easier to integrate and therefore speed up sector consolidations; resulting in a more rapid return of value to shareholders, and possibly, customers.
SOA however, is still very far from making an impact in most corporations simply because their IT departments are mired in projects and only have resources to pursue small steps towards an SOA goal.
Charles Feld, executive VP at EDS , the IT services giant, gave a very good presentation following Mr Ranadive. Mr Feld is one of the most experienced global CIOs. He has worked as CIO for massive organizations such as Frito-Lay, Delta Airlines and First Data.
Mr Feld warned large corporations that they might not have much time to dally because their legacy systems will hurt them. That's why upstarts such as Jet Blue can gain a significant competitive advantage over older, established competitors--they are not weighed down by the burdens of legacy IT systems.
Mr Feld also made a pleas for the CIO to strongly push for the changes within corporations that are needed to be made in the trek towards SEO. Otherwise many of the global 2000 corporations will not be here by the end of the decade.
I later ran into Madeline Bayliss, vp of sales at Solstice Software, which has an SOA testing suite. With SOA, there can be many modules and business processes across many different platforms--which quickly makes for a very complex system. How do you know a new services project will work without defects? And trying to find defects manually can be a gruesome and tedious ordeal.
Ms Bayliss, who has had a long career in financial services IT, says that it can take a long time to find problems unless you can automate the testing. And that is very much where the future of IT is heading--it is all a mashup of IT services organized into business processes but potentially touching dozens and maybe hundreds of other business processes. Solstice is in a good position to help deal with such a world.