Calling all integration experts!

Remember the old Universal Translator as modeled here by the late Mr. Spock? One of the first (or perhaps future?) examples of integration solutions, and certainly one of the most fondly remembere! But at its heart, it is also an almost perfect representation of the integration challenges today. Many years ago, there was EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) which was all about integrating homegrown applications with purchased package applications and/or alien applications brought in from Mergers and Acquisitions activity. The challenge was to find a way to make these applications from different planets communicate with one another to increase return on assets and provide a complete view of enterprise activity. EAI tools appeared from vendors such as TIBCO, SeeBeyond, IBM, Vitria, Progress Software, Software AG and webMethods to mention just a few.

Then there came the SOA initiative. By building computer systems with applications in the form of reusable chunks of business functionality (called services) the integration challenge could be met by enabling different applications to share common services.

Now the eternal wheel is turning once again, with the integration challenge clothed in yet another disguise. This time it is all about integrating systems with completely different usage a resource characteristics such as mobile devices, IoT components and traditional servers, but also applications of completely new types such as mobile apps and cloud-based SaaS solutions. In an echo of the past, lines of business are increasingly going out and buying cloud-based services to solve their immediate business needs, or paying a third-party developer to create the App they want, only to then turn to IT to get them to integrate the new solutions with the corporate systems of record.

Once again the vendors will respond to these user needs, probably extending and redeveloping their existing integration solutions or maybe adding new pieces where required. But as you look for potential partners to help you with this next wave of integration challenges, it is worth keeping in mind possibly the most important fact of all; a fact that has been evident throughout the decades of integration challenges to date. Every single time the integration challenge has surged to the top of the priority list, the key differentiator contributing to eventual success is not the smarts built into the tools and software / appliances on offer. Rather it is all about the advice and guidance you can get from people with extensive experience in integration challenges. Whether from vendors or service providers, these skills are absolutely essential. When it comes down to it, the technical challenges of integration are just the tip of the iceberg; all the real challenges are how you plan what you are going to do and how you work across disciplines and departments to ensure the solution is right for your company. You don’t have the time to learn this – find a partner who has spent years steeped in integration and listen to what they have to say!

Software AG sitting pretty?

Software AG seems to be defying predictions and surprising the market at every turn.

Once seen as a sleepy European software house based largely around legacy system technologies, it has taken major strides to transform itself into a major global software industry player. Its acquisition of webMethods a few years ago surprised the market, with many analysts unconvinced that it could make a go of the move into integration / SOA middleware, but it has done a fair job of building some momentum by tying the webMethods portfolio up with its own CentraSite governance technology, providing service-oriented architecture (SOA) with integrated governance.

Then it once again shocked the market by snatching IDS Scheer, the well-known supplier of modelling tools, from under SAP’s nose. Given that the IDS Scheer technology is used by most of the major SOA suppliers across the world for modelling, and in particular is a key part of the SAP portfolio, this would appear to give Software AG lots of cross-sell opportunities across the two customer bases and throughout the SAP world.

Now it has announced its 2Q09 results, and they make pretty good reading ont he surface. A 9% increase in product revenues is particularly noteworthy give that so many companies are struggling to show any year-on-year growth in product sales. However, before getting too carried away it is worth delving a little deeper into the numbers. The product revenue numbers include maintenance as well as license sales. Licensesales actually fell, as with most other companies. Maintenance revenues jumped by 20% – does this mean that the company has built a much larger maintenance base, or is it actually a reflection of a more aggressive pricing policy? Then there is the split between the legacy business (ETS) and the SOA/BPM business(webMethods). License revenues in this segment were down 15% – not very encouraging since this is the strategic business unit. Also, it is noticeable that maintenance revenue in each segment increased by about 20%, suggesting that this rise does indeed reflect a price hike.

However, taking all this into consideration, Software AG is still looking to have moved forward substantially from a few years ago, and assuming the IDS Scheer acquisition goes through OK there should be lots of opportunities for the company. Of course, a cynic might point out that by adding IDS Scheer to the webMethods portfolio, the company has made itself a highly attractive acquisition target to someone – perhaps SAP?!


Software AG and a dramatic example of SOA success in government

When I hear from a vendor about massive reductions in processing time or cost savings associated with the use of its products, I must confess to getting deeply suspicious.

This is because when I dig a little deeper, the trumpeted project often turns out to be little more than a proof-of-concept or otherwise small scale solution.  Therefore, I was surprised to hear just such a claim when I recently spoke with Dr Peter Kurpick, Chief Product Officer of Software AG, about their SOA straegy and the business strategy and that the system in question was in fact a very significant one (the announcement of which I somehow missed earlier this year).

The project for UKvisas (the national agency responsible for issuing visitor visas) integrates multiple information sources to quickly filter out individuals who should be denied entry to the UK for various reasons.  (Using SOA to integrate multiple data sources owned by multiple agencies is a SOA-pattern which I have come across in a number of projects.)

In this case, the implementation (built on Software AG’s products) has reduced processing times from over 2 days to less than 30 minutes.  It is an excellent example of how government is successfully using SOA to target specific and high value problems: As well as hugely reducing the processing time, there is also a very tangible benefit as each deportation (in effect a failure to screen out the visitor at time of entry) costs £11,000 .

What is encouraging is that governments seem to be learning from its mistakes of a few years back when it spent 100s of millions on integration projects that fell apart.  This project appears to suggest that the UK government has both understood how to use SOA to extract very measurable benefits and how to focus on specific business objectives instead of getting lost in never ending programmes which can never deliver.  To do this requires sophistication about how SOA should be adopted by your organisation and the central role of SOA governance (both key themes of Software AG’s SOA strategy).

It is also a good example of how SOA (as well as BPM) can provide as much benefit from reduction in the risk of error as it does from efficiency improvement.  This is important for anybody wishing to justify an investment in SOA:  Unlike SOA benefits such as agility or even reuse which are hard to measure and can have a long lead time to pay-back, the value of reducing errors can be calculated easily as error rates are often already tracked in organisations and the cost of recovery from an error is often very significant.


Now its IONA’s turn to be acquired – by Software AG?

IONA has just announced that it has received an unsolicited offer to be acquired by an unnamed company.

Over the last week there has been speculation that Software AG is the mysterious buyer.  Software AG buying would make some sense in that it is inline with its vision of building a major integration company through acquisition.  IONA does have an excellent customer base and an interesting SOA OSS play.  On the downside, IONA main business comes from the declining CORBA market and there would also be major overlaps on its closed source SOA side with the already crowded Software AG catalog post its WebMethods acquisition.

However, alternative buyers are less obvious as it is a company in the middle of a difficult transition – attempting to replace its rapidly decreasing CORBA revenue stream with lower than expected growth in its open and closed source SOA product lines.  Which means that I am putting my money on Software AG being the acquirer.


p.s. It is beginning to feel like this is becoming a finance blog – rest assured with only Tibco left out there, the current merger wave is bound to come to an end!

Software AG and webMethods – part II

Previously I have blogged on the SoftwareAG acquisition of webMethods, and what it might mean.

Lustratus also produced a paper on the subject, here. I thought it was time for an update. now things are becoming clearer.

I congratulate SoftwareAG on listening to my comments! Well, at least partially….the company has brought together pieces from both the webMethods and SoftwareAG sides in the area of SOA, and has come up with its suite, offering an ESB (well, actually more than one), adapters, BPM, BAM and legacy and user interface integration support into an SOA suite, called – wait for it – webMethods SOA Suite!

The company has wisely decided to leverage the strength of the webMethods brand name, both in the integration/SOA space and also geographically in the US. My only criticism is that in fact I have been slightly misleading. In fact, I believe the full name is ‘Software AG webMethods SOA Suite’. I just hope leaving the Software AG name so prominently does not backfire.

It seems that the suite will be made up of webMethods BAM and BPM, together with a combination of SoftwareAG and webMethods integration infrastructure products. For example, Software AG’s CentraSite deals with registry/repository needs, and use is also made of Software AG’s connectivity power. So, for example, webMethods EntireX deals with turning legacy code into SOA services. The ESBs are a bit confusing – there appear to be 3. One is a regular ESB, one is an ESB+ (basically the webMethods integration backbone) and one is a lightweight integration tool aimed at partner network needs.

So how is the merger going down? Well, it seems that at least some webmethods customers are glad to see the combination. Apparently this is because webMethods was actually a mature start-up – that is, innovative but not necessarily strong in internal development/delivery/maintenance processes, whereas Software AG has a reputation for being a solid, experienced and mature software brand. So presumably webMethods customers hope Software AG will bring some additional discipline to product delivery and support.

Anyway, the proof of the pudding will be seeing whether the combination gains traction. I think it has a chance, although if only they had dropped the SoftwareAG brand from the suite altogether….