Enterprise mashups: More about processes and less about services?

Enterprise mashups: More about processes and less about services?

Summary: A pair of excellently written and well-reasoned new posts over the last couple of days have focused on a key issue when weaving pre-existing services together into useful new business applications. The result of doing this is often called a composite application in the "enterprisey" world of service-oriented architecture (SOA). And it's called a mashup in the primarily consumer world of Web 2.0. Regardless of name however, both composite apps and mashups are intended to reduce the overall effort of development, improve functionality, promote data consistency, and increase the net output of useful software.

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TOPICS: Enterprise 2.0
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A pair of excellently written and well-reasoned new posts over the last couple of days have focused on a key issue when weaving pre-existing services together into useful new business applications.  The result of doing this is often called a composite application in the "enterprisey" world of service-oriented architecture (SOA).  And it's called a mashup in the primarily consumer world of Web 2.0.  Regardless of name however, both composite apps and mashups are intended to reduce the overall effort of development, improve functionality, promote data consistency, and increase the net output of useful software.

What's not to like about this?  In this way, Web 2.0 and SOA often seem to be closely related in terms of connecting people and systems together more easily.   And in reality, there is so much overlap in technology, technique, and intent that Web 2.0 and SOA has been described as a true coevolution of concepts.  But let's get back to the posts in question...

Web 2.0 and SOA - Data and Process Mashups 

Enterprise Mashups Will Likely Be More Process-Focused

The value of SOA emerges at the level of processes instead of services?

The first piece is by Ismael Ghalimi, who often talks about applying Business Process Managment or BPM -- a well-known approach for creating business processes that are software assisted -- in a more Web 2.0 fashion. In his write-up, "BPM is SOA's Killer Application", Ismael notes that SOA does indeed turn our IT systems into foundational building blocks; but it's the creation of processes out of them that delivers the actual return on having services in the first place:

From a business standpoint, a service is too small a unit to really appeal to the business side of the house. Its granularity is too fine. And it’s only when elevated to the level of processes that business folks usually start paying attention. Reusing a currency conversion service across multiple applications, and saving three man-month of development along the way, is one thing. Being able to shave three weeks in the overall order-to-cash process is another. Guess which of the two will get the CFO’s attention?

This leads into an excellent piece of analysis in a second insightful post: that today's mashups are primarily focused on data integration instead of creating processes, thereby failing to provide enough directed value in enterprise situations.  Peter Rip explores this in detail in his new post, "Meme-check - Enterprise & Web 2.0":

Web 2.0 has been as much about sociology as technology. But Enterprises are not just big "collections of consumers" and so let's not graft the same concepts and expect a thousand enterprise flowers to bloom.

First, dispense with the sociology. Enterprises have two core attributes that do not exist as widely in the public web -- purpose and accountability.   So 'empowerment' and 'collective intelligence'  are not end points.  Nor are 'discovery,' 'networking,' nor 'sharing.'   These are embedded in processes and are methods for creating context to purposeful transactions.  A sales forecast is 'collective intelligence.'  Mining customer comments is a form of 'discovery.'  A internal blog post is more likely to be linked to a product release status than photos of my vacation. Viewed in this context, a lot of what passes for (aspiring) businesses in Web 2.0 are simply features of larger processes in the Enterprise. 

In the past I've written about the need to provide an enterprise 'context' to Web 2.0 software in order for it to flourish, and in this way both Ismael and Peter provide the perfect synthesis of what enterprise context usually means: Enabling outcome-driven activities, or business processes by any other name.  And though the first great mashup tools we're seeing emerge are still primarily about integration of data, it'll be the ones that take it to the next step that might really break out.

A Key Point: We need lighter, more process-oriented tools that are guided by users 

Peter closes up his post by observing that we may be in for a revolution as big as what VisiCalc brought us in terms of handing control over IT to users.   Specifically, users inputting into collaborative, shared tools that are as easy to use as spreadsheets but that are shared and in the context of larger activities focused on specific outcomes.

And it's this piece, where we find that upfront, excessively structured and complex IT systems are often failing businesses by creating overly rigid automation that isn't user customizable, evolvable, and leaves too much of the result knowledge uncaptured.  Enterprise 2.0 is one compelling vision for this and it really is about freeform, collaborative software that adapts to the situation and is controlled primarily by the user, giving workers tools that get out of their way and connect them to their colleagues and their data.

At least that's the vision, and I continue to work at uncovering the emerging tooling for this space.  Because we can clearly see that there is are better, more effective ways of working.  Ways that we are witnessing on a grand scale in the bustling, vibrant world of collaboration, data sharing, and communities that has become the world of Web 2.0.

I'm looking for great anecdotes, good and both, about the use of blogs, wikis, and social software in the enterprise.  If you have a good one, please drop me a line

Topic: Enterprise 2.0

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  • Architecture By Objectives

    The first book on excellence was written in India over 2300 years ago. Before that ancient Greece had achieved excellence and Aristotle had concluded concerted action driven by consensus is the way to excellence. Since then, while mankind has progressed from animal energy to nuclear energy, it has remained dependent on personnel energy for driving concerted action cum consensus. As a result achievement of excellence, though universally desired and understood, is very rare ? less than 1% of all administrations have succeeded and that too for limited periods of time. The global need of government and business administration is reliable and inexhaustible energy for excellence to become a successful pursuit.

    IT has the processing power, storage, access and connectivity to offer a language of interaction for the collective mind to progress towards excellence. IT?s ubiquity, and ability to anticipate and be indispensable (with programming) can assure adoption for reliability. IT is inherently inexhaustible. However, the needed language, viz., a compelling means for total interaction, has yet to be created.

    How is IT oriented? It is confined in its thinking to the last created tool, laboriously progressing step by step, and may even be headed in the wrong direction with its emphasis on output of useful software, e.g., data mashups instead of process mashups. Tool based thinking (Web 2.0 is alas only a tool) limits IT to the role of passive energy dependent upon humans for the primary drive. The crucial need is intelligent energy that can lead the collective on to the path of excellence. SOA is not even architecture for this energy. It is at best a method to create the architecture needed.

    The contours of the architecture required are clear. It has to be the way itself for the daily work and interaction instead of a tool for the way. Communication and collaboration should follow from the way. The way is not going to come with process thinking since the end-to-end process required for continuity in collaboration is impossible. The way will likely be a synthesis of the two alternatives thrown up by Peter Rip, viz.,
    ? Will the enterprise application guys (the IT dinosaurs) "get it" about embedding communication and social context in long-running transactions, or
    ? Will the web 2.0 guys (the IT plankton) "get it" about business processes being the purpose of enterprise community and communication?

    A possible synthesis that satisfies both the backward view from excellence and the forward view from architecture is a way for work and interaction that builds both business processes and communication. This is not quixotic. Knowledge flows are the foundation of both. The need then is the grammar for knowledge flows so IT can present a compelling language to the user to build collaboration.

    Will this grammar come from the pure technology approach that the IT fraternity is bent on pursuing? Only they term the intelligent energy required by society as frictionless working. Frictionless here implies an energy source. To some extent IT has given up the chase by accepting dependence on incentives, viz., personnel energy. It is more likely that the grammar shall come from a convergence between teamwork norms and IT. The norms shall be derived not from process behaviour but human behaviour for while there are multiple processes in play, the human progressing them is unchanging. Is IT willing to pursue this new direction or must a new industry take shape?
    waykm
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