My Impressions of IBM’s SOA Impact Conference

April 16, 2008

My Impressions of IBM’s SOA Impact Conference

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 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…

About Judith Hurwitz

Judith Hurwitz is an author, speaker and business technology consultant with decades of experience.

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