Pragmatism is the theme for 2009

I have just returned from a couple of weeks around and about, culminating in presenting at the Integration Consortium’s Global Integration Summit (GIS), where I presented the Lustratus ‘BPM Sweet Spots’ paper.

One message seemed to come out loud and clear from the conference – pragmatism is the watchword for 2009.

There were two other analyst presentations apart from the Lustratus one, and I was surprised to see that both presenters pitched a message along the lines of ‘you will never succeed with SOA/Integration/BPM unless you get all the strategic planning and modelling for your enterprise done first’, combined with a suggestion that the presenter was just the resource to ask for help! This contrasted sharply with my own presentation of choosing tactical targets for BPM rather than going for a strategic, enterprise-wide, fully modelled approach.

I was wondering if I had read the mood wrong in the marketplace, but then the eight or so user case studies all proved to be tactical strikes for specific business benefits rather than the more extensive strategic approach more common a year or so ago. It was nice to be vindicated – it looks like 2009 really IS the year of pragmatism and short-term practical considerations.


The forgotten SOA benefit – Visibility

There has been a lot of chatter recently about measuring SOA ROI – take a look at Loraine Lawson’s recent blog for instance.

or Gartner’s results of a UK-based survey of SOA adopters. However, one of the benefits that I think a lot of people miss, or do not attribute enough importance to at least, is Visibility.

Basically, the visibility story goes that with SOA, since you break up operational components into discrete business services, then it becomes easy to monitor entry and exit to these services and hence business operations flow. This gives a clear picture in business terms of execution and performance – not just what is happening, or how many times, but HOW business is being carried out.

Gartner did touch upon visibility,

Improved Efficiency in Business Processes Execution – Isolating the business logic from the functional application work enables a clearer view of what a process is, and the rules to which it adheres. This can be measured by lower process administrative costs, higher visibility on existing/running business processes, and reduced number of manual, paper-based steps; better service-level effectiveness; quicker implementation of process iterative or of variants of the same process for different contexts.

However, the Gartner focus was only on visibility as it relates to execution efficiency. In fact, SOA-based visibility offers another benefit which, in today’s tough times particularly, can be a real big hitter for executive management. It enables management to see how process are being executed – in other words, it provides the ideal tool to monitor compliance against a growing raft of regulatory requirements across just about every industry. In order to demonstrate that your systems comply, it is necessary to be able to see what they are doing and how they are doing it. This is what SOA delivers.

So how does improved compliance management fit into the ROI picture? True, it is very hard to attach a dollar amount to compliance – however it certainly matters. With the amount of public and political scrutiny of corporations today, it is absolutely imperative that executives can show they are faithfully adhering to regulations and guidelines. Failure to do so will not only risk severe penalties, but also probably lose them their jobs! Now THAT’s a compelling business case….


Justify BPM with a free night in Vegas?

In today’s climate, investment for IT is extremely hard to come buy.

BPM (Business Process Management) may promise a lot, but how can it be justified? With a free night or two in the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel perhaps?

The Integration Consortium, a not-for-profit consortium of users, suppliers, implementers and academia focused on all aspects of business integration, is hosting its annual Global Integration Summit this year in Las Vegas, 3rd-4th June, open to allcomers, and as a special incentive it is offering free rooms to the first 200 people to register for the event. So there’s the free night(s) in Las Vegas…but what about BPM? Well, for my sins I will be giving the ‘Featured Presentation’ at the event on how to justify BPM based on the idea of identifying the BPM Sweet Spots – that is,a range of use cases for BPM that each respond to a different investment policy. The idea is that depending on whether a company is focused on restricting resource requirements, or driving payback very quickly, or getting the biggest bang for the buck in the short term, or whatever, then there should be a BPM Sweet Spot that fits the bill. Well, that’s the theory, anyway…..!

At least the free room (if you are lucky enough to get one) is one bet you can’t lose on!


The internal market approach to SOA investment

I was reading a blog post from my good friend John Schmidt, Chairman of the Integration Consortium

…and now with a day job at Informatica, about trying to get funding for integration initiatives (in his case he was focusing on funding for an integration competency centre, a personal hot button), and I was very taken with John’s view of using an ‘internal free market’ approach to getting funding approved.

John points out that while 70% of IT budgets are non-discretionary, just keeping everything running, most companies have at least some budget for investment, but that the problem is the investment portfolio is spread across many different parts of the business, greatly reducing any individual department budget to the point that walking in asking someone for $1M of their own budget is going to be a serious impact to that budget holder. But John advises a creative approach:

So why not look at the portfolio of internal projects in an enterprise as a “market”. Why not apply some of the concepts that have proven so successful in the free market economy to the internal operations of an organization. Since everyone needs integration, if you could simply get a good understanding of the demand in the internal market, you could build a business around it.

This made me think of the Lustratus report I wrote recently on justifying integration investment in an economic downturn, by putting a laser-beam focus on ROI. Adding John’s internal market approach seems to provide another dimension to the ROI focus I was recommending. In other words, while the ROI paper looks at how to justify operational budget investment for SOA, the same problem that John describes may rear its head, and it may be impossible to find someone to slice their own investment budget even though the business case is strong. But by combining the ROI focus with an internal market business case, success is much more likely. Effectively, the running costs can then be covered by a small chargeback to each project to reflect the improved productivity they will all experience, or whatever other gain each department saw as part if its internal market needs.


Message-driven SOA – what goes around?

Starting from when I was running IBM’s MQSeries business, in the 1990s, I learnt a big lesson about seeing things from the user point of view.

We had a great messaging product, and it started the EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) market rolling. Soon, vendors were pitching the wonders of business integration through an all-encompassing EAI framework….and users started moaning about it being complicated and too hard. Vendors brushed off these concerns and just shouted louder, and I was an evangelist in this….and then I started actually listening to users. I remember pitching for all I was worth on the strategic value of EAI, and then a user saying to me, “Steve, we believe you. But we can’t get there in one jump – at the moment, what we really need is to hook this application up with that one, that’s all”.

For a moment my strategic eye was offended. How could you take this wonderful, clever, strategic software and then just hook two applications together? What a waste! But of course, I then learnt the practicalities of life, and the imperative to focus on the business need. If the business needs Application A to talk to Application B, then that is what it will fund, and that is what it wants to achieve. Sweeping frameworks are all very well, but for most companies practical considerations come first.

Now I am having deja vu, all over again. I believe in SOA – I am an evangelist. I can see the huge benefits it promises as a strategic platform for business agility, business visibility and cost-efficiency. And yet, talking to users it has finally sunk in that while some of the more lucky companies have the funding and resources to go the whole hog with SOA, there are a large number of users who ‘just want to link A to B’, but want to do so in a way that is consistent with a goal of enterprise-wide SOA some time in the future.

The new Lustratus report, free from the Lustratus web store, discusses a more tactical approach to SOA – “message-driven SOA”. It points out that even for those companies who are terrified by the prospect of having to work out their process implementations and flows, change the way they work and deal with business transformation issues, there is a way to leverage SOA ideas in a tactical, simple way that is at least a step on the road to overall SOA adoption. Message-driven SOA is almost a reprise of the tactical use of messaging in the 1990s, but with an SOA spin on it. So, message-based flows loosely couple applications and programs together, delivering the benefits of business integration without necessarily having to get tangled up in full-scale process re-engineering and modelling. And yet, the reuse concept of SOA is also leveraged, together with the ability to expose these message-based integrations as SOA services.

Message-driven SOA may not be the answer to every problem. As a rule of thumb, it will be most attractive for integrations that are primarily of the application-to-application kind, where human interaction is limited and tasks are of short duration. But it is well worth a look to see if this simpler approach to getting tactical SOA benefits might be useful.


Trouble with evaluating SOA ROI

I was trying to think how to get another TLA in that title, since I think you get a prize for having three three-letter-acronyms in a row.

However, the topic is definitely getting a lot of attention as companies try to decide whether SOA is worth the effort. The problem is, SOA benefits span a wide range, and are often difficult to assess. And yet, as John Soat notes in Information Week, real customers are showing major gains with SOA.

My take is that it is important to sort benefits into a spectrum of tangibleness (if such a word exists). So, reducing redundancy should have an actual dollar value reduction in maintenance costs – a tangible number. Delivering the agility to deal with new regulations more quickly is difficult to estimate in dollar terms, but could even be a survival issue. Seems to me the key is to find a way to include the full range of elements in any justification or evaluation.

Perhaps one way to add a dollar value benefit on some of the intangible benefits is to ask the executive in charge of the area most affected how much they would be prepared to pay to solve the issue. So, it might be interesting to ask the CFO how much he would invest to ensure the company could comply with new regulations within the assigned deadlines. This, then, becomes a tangible number that can be plugged into the case.