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Thoughts from the Integration Consortium:
Applistructure and SOA - Twin Sons of Different Mothers

online columnist  Integration Consortium     Column published in DMReview.com
September 1, 2005
  By Integration Consortium

This month's column is written by Lance Hill, vice president of Solution Marketing for webMethods.

For most users, business applications, such as CRM, ERP and SCM, are synonymous with enterprise IT. Simply defined as the combination of functionality and business logic needed to address specific tasks, business applications provide end users with the ability to harness and leverage computing resources to address fundamental business requirements. With business applications playing such a central role in our understanding and use of technology, the fact that the business application is being deconstructed and enhanced simultaneously by two key trends warrants closer attention as these two forces are poised to redefine the business application going forward.

Service-Oriented Architecture: A Big Bang Theory

As discussed extensively in this column and other pages, service-oriented architecture (SOA) is rapidly emerging as a dominant approach for developing, deploying, managing and integrating business applications. As an extension of Web services, SOA is fundamentally about the institutionalization of application development via the assembly of the parts.

By loosening the traditional couplings used to hold applications together, some would argue that SOA fundamentally undermines the very notion of an application. More specifically, it provides users with the ability to not only strip applications down to their core attributes but also lets them dynamically reassemble these parts into composite applications on demand. In doing so, it arguably eliminates the "added value" that vendors traditionally contribute by packaging these capabilities together as this process can now be done dynamically with greater precision and efficiency than previously possible. Simply put, SOA threatens to "blow up" the traditional packaged business application into thousands of little pieces so that these remnants can be reassembled better than before.

Applistructure = Strategic Reconstruction

The other interesting trend is the emergence of applistructure, melding the best attributes of traditional packaged applications and application infrastructure into a unified whole. According to AMR Research's Eric Austvold in his report Realizing the Promise of Applistructure [March 14, 2005], "The promise of applistructure is to shift time and money continuously away from the tactical and toward a strategic, next-generation infrastructure."

Unlike SOA, which is typically viewed as an attempt to strip applications down to their bare essence, applistructure is often seen as an attempt to enhance or bolster traditional applications by infusing them with elements of application infrastructure. Through this process, it is believed that they can adopt more self-aware and self-learning characteristics to deliver better performance.

Differing Starting Points with the Same Finish Line

What can we learn about the future of the business application from these apparently contradictory trends? More than you might think, once you accept the fact that these objectives are very complementary albeit from different points of view. The end goal in both scenarios is to deliver business applications that are more flexible, precise and accretive - they improve over time - than what is currently available. Where they differ is in the starting point from which they begin their journey.

SOA is essentially an IT strategy for solving these challenges. However, what is interesting here is that despite the transformational nature of the technology, the end point doesn't change. Rather, SOA simply provides us with a more efficient, flexible and powerful means for integrating systems, automating business processes and securing extended, end-to-end visibility across these processes. As such, considering SOA alone as a panacea for all of our corporate ills is just as silly as saying the same about client/server or other enabling technologies. Instead, as an architectural framework, it provides users with a better platform for deploying the essential business logic required to deliver business value.

Applistructure is a line-of-business response to the same challenge. Remember, line of business doesn't view IT as a coordinated set of bits and bytes, but rather on the basis of specific domains as encapsulated in business applications such as CRM, ERP and SCM. As such, applistructure reflects their desire to take advantage of the best features of business applications and application infrastructure to more efficiently, flexibly and powerfully integrate systems, automate business processes, and extend visibility across end-to-end business processes. Sound familiar?

Moving Forward

While this apparent consensus should be comforting in regards to the future direction of the business application, aspects of this disconnect are also reason for concern. Specifically, they underscore the need for the two groups sharing ownership of the business application - line of business and IT - to communicate more effectively regarding its future. For example, despite all of the current discussions surrounding SOA - and some would even suggest hype - how often are these discussions focused on the true, measurable business impact of SOA?

Going forward, we would all be well served to look at the broader context. For example, businesses don't get paid for running general ledger, tracking customer purchases or procuring goods and services any more than they do for architecting elegant IT solutions. Rather, they get paid for completing business processes - hopefully, on time and on scope - like manufacturing a car or granting a loan. Industry leaders realize a premium by doing this better than anyone with a specific focus on those processes that the marketplace deems of great demand.

In defining integration as the successful communication between data, applications, processes, people and enterprises, the Integration Consortium has always championed the perspective that integration is far more a process than a technology. As such, when talking about SOA or applistructure, do so in the context of how they improve the underlying business processes that enable and facilitate the enterprise.

Lance Hill leads a number of key customer initiatives around service-oriented architecture and related technologies as webMethods' vice president of Solution Marketing. Before joining webMethods earlier this year, he served as the vice president of the Enterprise Engineering and later the Fusion Technology Group for National City Bank. In these roles, he was responsible for middleware, enterprise data and data warehousing, telecom and call center technology and oversaw the development of an internal application development and solution delivery organization. He can be contacted at Lance.Hill@webMethods.com.


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Enterprise Achitecture and Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA).

The Integration Consortium is a non-profit, leading industry body responsible for influencing the direction of the integration industry. Its members champion Integration Acumen by establishing standards, guidelines, best practices, research and the articulation of strategic and measurable business benefits. The Integration Consortium's motto is "Forging Integration Value." The mission of the member-driven Integration Consortium is to establish universal seamless integration which engages industry stakeholders from the business and technology community. Among the sectors represented in the Integration Consortium membership are end-user corporations, independent software vendors (ISVs), hardware vendors, system integrators, academic institutions, non-profit institutions and individual members as well as various industry leaders. Information on the Integration Consortium is available at www.integrationconsortium.org or via e-mail at info@integrationconsortium.org.

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