Web 2.0 Summit: IBM evolves vision of SOA and Web 2.0

Web 2.0 Summit: IBM evolves vision of SOA and Web 2.0

Summary: One of the most consistent trends on the Internet is the rise of open APIs and the applications built on top of them, known as mashups. Programmable Web currently lists over 1100 APIs that can be used for everything from building Web sites on top of Google Maps to using Amazon's powerful infrastructure APIs for storage and cluster computing. The underlying trend: The desire to easily remix the vast pool of high value data and services on the Web today into useful new solutions, at home and perhaps even in the enterprise.

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TOPICS: Enterprise 2.0
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One of the most consistent trends on the Internet is the rise of open APIs and the applications built on top of them, known as mashups.  Programmable Web currently lists over 300 APIs that can be used for everything from building Web sites on top of Google Maps to using Amazon's powerful infrastructure APIs for storage and cluster computing. The underlying trend: The desire to easily remix the vast pool of high value data and services on the Web today into useful new solutions, at home and perhaps even in the enterprise.

In a late morning session today at the Web 2.0 Summit, IBM's Rod Smith painted a compelling picture of this mashup trend combined with the emerging edge of enterprise IT. The result?  A surprisingly close relationship between the somewhat stodgy world of service-oriented architecture (SOA) and the bustling world of consumer Web 2.0.

The convergence of SOA and Web 2.0, two highly interrelated trends that are very focused on 1) connecting people and systems together easily, 2) making software and data available for reuse via services, and 3) building new value upon the foundation of existing information resources and IT assets.  This convergence is something I've been following quite closely for a while, particularly in some key exploratory blogs and articles late last year.

Situational Software with Web 2.0-style Mashups and SOA

SOA/Web 2.0 convergence is important topic since many of the biggest challenges in enterprise IT are actually being solved today out on the Web, particular around the best way to engage users, deliver highly usable software, integrate systems, and achieve high levels of reuse and adoption.  So it was fascinating to hear the experiences of Rod and his team over the last year, where they've visited over a 100 customers sites and taken the temperature of CIOs in terms of how Web 2.0 can help them with their business problems.

The story is a fascinating one and in this first part of two, we'll take a look at what Rod and his team at IBM is uncovering in the business trenches in terms of Web 2.0's applicability, penetration, and value proposition to the enterprise.

Rod started out the session talking about Web 2.0's usefulness not so much as a technology, but primarily as adding value to the business.  He identified three key Web 2.0 trends that are important to business:

  • Services, not software.  Citing the patterns out on the Web of online software providing a much tighter connection between the product and customers, Rod noted that successful services on the Web focused on user-driven adoption, business value on demand, low cost to entry, leveraging of public infrastructure, and probably most important, tight feedback loops between providers and consumers.  Shortening and automating key feedback loops are a hallmark of what's happening out on the Web.
  • Community.  Creating a user base where users add value, providing social networking features, allowing user organization of data with things like tagging, allowing simple feedback mechanisms like user comments and ratings, and things like community rights management (such as eBay reputation system), provides for important ways to capture essential value that useful to other customers and businesses alike. The key here said Rod is that communities facilitate "getting in touch with a community of people that are your customers or constituents" and the organizations that "get best in touch with their users via contributions, ratings, feedback will be the online businesses that are most successful."  And I couldn't agree more.
  • Simple.  As I said recently in my habits of highly effective Web 2.0 sites, ease-of-use is the single most important aspect of any Web site or program.  And that certainly includes APIs as well as actual end-user experiences.  Rod observed that is should be easy to remix as well, with feeds being a key aspect of simple.  Feed formats like RSS and Atom allows low-barrier remixing that "builds up an ecosystem that is more vibrant, open, and decentralized."

A key drivers for Web 2.0 in the enterprise however is the desire to "connect the large population of employees together, to quickly and easily find qualified people that can deal with problems that come up in the enterprise."  The use of open, shared collaborative tools with discovery mechanisms that are almost entirely self-service opens up compelling possibilities in knowledge retention and information sharing (in other words, identifying internal experts based on previous Web 2.0-style peer contributions).

IBM's Rod Smith discussion Web 2.0 and SOA convergence at the Web 2.0 SummitRod also talked about a very important IT trend, that CIOs everywhere are actively struggling with a large backlog of applications that they've been unable to address, leaving end-users in the business feeling like they are unresponsive.  The simple, malleable aspect of Web 2.0 tools enables the needed solutions to emerge in the hands of users by providing a little bit of structure that isn't a burden, but "enough so that they can organize what they are doing."  This is very similar to the SLATES pattern that Enterprise 2.0 recommends which is believed by many to provide one key starting point for Web 2.0 in the enterprise.

Interestingly, Rod picked up on a key element of enterprise business activity that many, including myself, believe to be the last major bastion of worker productivity gains: tacit interactions, which he calls "informal work patterns", saying that the vast majority of work in the enterprise is ad hoc and "not filling out an SAP form."

After this point, Rod had a CTO from American Express talk about their experiences applying Web 2.0 in a large financial company and then had David Barnes come up and demo the QEDWiki platform to articulate the vision of situational mashup applications, connected bidirectionally via feeds.  Dashboards and situational apps can be built in minutes instead of hours, wired together, and even be connected to Internet-based and enterprise IT resources in two directions.  David actually showed all of this working and built an entire application with phone book integration, financial data integration and charts and graphs, all then re-exposed via an API, forming yet another new service that can be shared out to the enterprise or the "Global SOA" on the Internet.

One very compelling aspect of using the wiki (editable Web page) as the platform for end-user situational software development is that it already supports many important features such as automatic versioning and security, ensuring that all apps changes are backed up and retrievable as well as secured from basic unauthorized use.

Rod wrapped up by touching on the concept of "disposable solutions", built to use once in an emergent, adaptive fashion and thrown away when the finished, a far cry he noted from the current practice of trying to build it right the first time, every single time.  This gives rise to the following revision to the Web development model:

The Next Rev of the Web Programming Model (Source: IBM)

  • Rich Internet Applications (Ajax, Flash, etc.)
  • Instant Web apps (minutes instead of hours and days)
  • Lightweight programming models
  • Mashable assets (new -- and just as importantly, existing IT resources (Ross Mayfield) made to work in this new situational model)
  • Feeds

Now, for those not sure this is all really happening, the fascinating part are the demos I'm seeing here at the conference.  Situational software is clearly on the cusp of becoming a reality and for those skeptical readers in the audience, this stuff is real and it's clearly compelling.  I'm looking to do a screencast of the some of the more impressive apps I'm seeing here or have been shown in the last few weeks. As Rod pointed out, live users are still the manual integration point of our systems far too often, and now it's getting easier and easier for the average person to direct software do the integration automatically.

Update: David Barnes sent me this YouTube hosted screencast of QEDWiki in action that lets you see roughly what we saw yesterday and demonstrates the potential of using wikis as an end-user platform for creating enterprise mashups and leveraging "mashable assets".  Definitely worth a look.

Note: The second part of this story is coming up next and will be the story of Bob Morgan, VP of the Chief Technology Office of American Express, who used some time at Rod's session to talk about various real-world uses of Web 2.0 techniques at the world-famous financial services company.  A great story about what's actually happening with Web 2.0 in the enterprise.

Topic: Enterprise 2.0

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4 comments
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  • Can SLATES overcome the need for a science?

    Your blogs are a learning experience. However, this one favors a direction (Enterprise 2.0) for the future enterprise. The stakes are high. The corporate email population is over 600 million. Collaboration is poor. A 30% improvement in performance [1] is conceivable with a reliable process for collaboration. Assuming a per seat cost of USD 1000 (average for an end-to-end process [2] is USD 1550) this translates into a total potential market of USD 600 billion excluding growth. Great demand for an assured means for collaboration will come from developing countries. In contrast, the annual knowledge products and services market was projected at under USD 12 billion for 2004 (Ovum Ltd.). This excludes the wider market for collaborative business knowledge. This is estimated by Basex [3] at USD 60 billion.

    The prevailing facts are clear:

    - A one-size-fit-all process is not possible for corporate decision-making on an event since the participants are unknown and the workflow is unpredictable.
    - Enterprise 2.0 ? easily understood by the SLATES mnemonic of Andrew McAfee ? offers the power of emerging web technology for connecting and collaborating. However, in the absence of a process, its first requirement [4] is a receptive culture to pave the way for self-organization of practices.

    The book ?Managing Collective Intelligence? [5] by Olivier Zara elaborates on the culture. It very clearly requires personnel to exercise discipline to consistently spare time and energy for ?an ethic of collaboration?. This includes driving IT tools for collaboration. Thus, IT is conceived as passive energy that must be driven by personnel. Any system dependent on personnel is unlikely to succeed as they have little or no energy to spare. Besides, there are those who regularly leave their brains out of the front door on entering office (3 out of 4 per Marcum Buckingham [6]). Excellence requires their energies be engaged. The need is inexhaustible energy to organize, drive and channel collaboration in a habit forming manner. IT has acquired the potential to provide this intelligent energy. What is missing is not great data flow power but an understanding of how personnel connect and collaborate across space and time, viz., a science of interactions, to establish an end-to-end collaborative process.

    What is the nature of the science needed? Since its purpose is to induce a collaborative culture it will be worthwhile having a look at the cultures induced by IT. Email for personal communication and IM for chat are now common cultures. IT provides an intuitive language for connecting. I favour Humboldt?s definition of language popularized by Noam Chomsky: ?'the infinite use of finite means'. Christopher Alexander, quoted by Tim ?O? Reilly in his seminal ?What Is Web 2.0?, concludes much the same thing. The emerging Web 2.0 requires personnel have facility with a range of tools. There is no uniform grammar for knowledge exchange. Web 2.0, for all practical purposes, establishes a sign language clear to those who follow it. An enterprise cannot rely on a voluntary sign language for knowledge flows. All must be fluent in the language and engage in it from choice. The science must therefore lay the foundation for creating a compelling enterprise language [7] for efficiently conducting all knowledge work and coordination in an environment of unpredictability and chaos.

    Apart from inducing a work culture the enterprise language shall, by its very nature, deliver all the requirements identified by Andrew McAfee for Enterprise 2.0 [8] as a by-product of its operation. This assumes an ability to function anywhere/anytime/offline and deliver the blog concept in a secure way. Replication technology is robust enough to support this. However, I expect it shall be a while before Web 2.0 supports replication. This gives the proprietary platform vendors a clear advantage to deliver on constructive Enterprise Collaboration but I do not see them exploiting it.

    References:
    [1] ? http://www.accenture.com/Global/Research_and_Insights/Outlook/By_Alphabet/TheArtOfWork.htm
    [2] ? http://www.deskeng.com/Articles/Feature/Does-One-Size-Fit-All?-20060217882.html
    [3] ? http://www.basex.com/web/tbghome.nsf/pages/researchandcoverage
    [4] ? http://sloanreview.mit.edu/smr/issue/2006/spring/06/
    [5] ? http://www.axiopole.com/pdf/Managing_collective_intelligence.pdf
    [6] ? http://www.fastcompany.com/online/49/buckingham.html
    [7] ? http://www.waykm.com/Organizing_The_Way_To_Excellence.htm#EP
    [8] ? http://blog.hbs.edu/faculty/amcafee/
    waykm
  • Chicken and the Egg

    The confusion around the convergence of web 2.0 and SOA is the same as the chicken abd the egg. Waht came first, SOA or web 2.0. There are a ton of blogs about web 2.0 and very few focus on SOA.

    I've spoken with a lot of comapnies and customers who want to know more about both. Every person has told me they were more confused about web 2.0 than SOA. The reason for the confusion - to many Internet Theologians (Blogger) are driving web 2.0 and now web 3.0 without understanding how it fits into current IT and business strategies. In addtion the cnfusion is based on what background the Internet Theologians (Bloggers), analysts, media, or vendors come from. What I mean is - if a person has a strong web 2.0 background, web 2.0 and web applications drive the story. On the other side, if a person has an SOA background, their story is about creating composite applications (that are really web applications) from legacy infrastructure.

    IT is interesting to read the examples of companies embracing web 2.0. Recently, Andrew McAfee asked for companies using web 2.0 to answer his blog. He recieved comments from vendors only. In my research, after speaking to hundreds of customers http://cio20.com, I found that there are a ton more companies implementing and deploying SOA and BPM. For this reason, every company and vendor needs to understand how SOA and web 2.0 works together and what are the advantages/ benefits of each. The answrs to these questions will not come from Internet Theologians; answers will come from real-world IT.
    precopio
    • Creating a new recipe

      When a dish does not work there are only questions and hidden answers. Unless, of course, one believes in the Spanish Fly (which supposedly transforms a perfectly plain pizza or anything). The fly exists but its instant solution is a myth! Myths have a life of their own.

      I believe proximity to a gigantic market is giving credence to the glow around Enterprise 2.0. IT is on the verge of organizing knowledge and driving flows. That shall transform team performance with far easier pursuit of excellence. However, there can be no doubt that IT today relies on a receptive culture for self-organization to progress constructive collaboration. This douses any buildup of a collaborative wildfire with the might of Web 2.0 and SOA and their mashup progeny.

      A pithy comment by Paul Cox at Andrew McAfee?s blog sums it all up: ?I doubt that any industry will voluntarily fall on its sword to allow any of these technologies to take hold?.

      Truth has to be designed for. It cannot follow by accident. I regret I disagree with your take on Theologians. It is time for all shades of theoreticians since it is a discussion on what is missing for IT to induce a collaborative culture. It couldn?t be power for IT is thoroughly underutilized. Perhaps a science that delivers a step for mankind is the answer.
      pawsin
    • Creating a new recipe

      When a dish does not work there are only questions and hidden answers. Unless, of course, one believes in the Spanish Fly (which supposedly transforms a perfectly plain pizza or anything). The fly exists but its instant solution is a myth! Myths have a life of their own.

      I believe proximity to a gigantic market is giving credence to the glow around Enterprise 2.0. IT is on the verge of organizing knowledge and driving flows. That shall transform team performance with far easier pursuit of excellence. However, there can be no doubt that IT today relies on a receptive culture for self-organization to progress constructive collaboration. This douses any buildup of a collaborative wildfire with the might of Web 2.0 and SOA and their mashup progeny.

      A pithy comment by Paul Cox at Andrew McAfee?s blog sums it all up: ?I doubt that any industry will voluntarily fall on its sword to allow any of these technologies to take hold?.

      Truth has to be designed for. It cannot follow by accident. I regret I disagree with your take on Theologians. It is time for all shades of theoreticians since it is a discussion on what is missing for IT to induce a collaborative culture. It couldn?t be power for IT is thoroughly underutilized. Perhaps a science that delivers a step for mankind is the answer.
      pawsin