Monday, July 16, 2007

thenagin The SOA Shrink-Wrapping Metaphor




This was Friday, January 12 of this year….my second appearance on Dana’s roundtable podcast.

At first, I found it an odd juxtaposition of discussion topics, but in retrospect I consider it quite a lovely couplet:

  • “The first is the business opportunity for vendors around SOA. How will Wall Street, the City of London, other markets, and investor organizations view SOA as a growth opportunity, and what sort of companies will benefit?”
  • “Our second topic is going to be around the recent announcement at Macworld -- and we’re talking about the week of January 8, 2007 -- by Steve Jobs and Apple Inc. of the iPhone, and what this might mean for a mobile front-end: Is it just for consumers? Is there an enterprise aspect to iPhone? And what might be some implications for SOA and composite applications?”

What I love about it is that the first question attempted to nail the relevance of something highly abstract—the SOA paradigm—whereas the second went straight to something very tangible and concrete—which, as we’ve seen, recently occasioned a hula-hoop popular hysteria that played out across all media. Also, what I love about it is that SOA is such an oceanic concept that Dana could easily anchor iPhone—and, if he wished, all kinds of incongruous stuff—to its continental shelf.

On the first question, Dana went first to panelist Trip Chowdhry, an equities analyst, who argued that SOA software suite vendors are unnecessarily complicating their packaging, productization, and go-to-market messages—the phrase he used was “trying to solve complexity with complexity”—with the unfortunate result that “CIOs are now struggling to understand.”

By the time Dana eventually swung over to me, we’d all agreed that SOA is still far too abstract and complex for a Wall Street elevator pitch. And we agreed that both the vendors and the users are still too fuzzy on SOA’s bottom line. I like what Steve Garone had to say (he came right before me): “It’s not clear that either the end users or the providers of technology are able to clearly articulate either of them or have them interoperate -- so to speak -- have them mesh into a coherent vision of what SOA actually is and what it can deliver.”

I know that I myself struggle all the time to explain SOA’s commercial potential in the fewest possible words without dumbing it down. Here is how I hacked away at it when Dana posed the issue to me that January morn:

Gardner: You would think that a global vendor like SAP would be also enjoying some growth. So, it’s too soon to tell if there is a longer-term trend here. Let’s go over to Jim Kobielus. Jim, do you think that complexity is bad for vendors, good for SIs, and can you think of any types of vendor that might be able to go to Wall Street and say, ‘We’re going to be worth twice as much in two years because of SOA?’

Kobielus: I’ve joked for many years with people that the more change you have, the more complexity you have, and the more need you have for consultants to come in and explain it all. So, there’s always going to be an opportunity for consultants and analysts to explain what things like SOA are and are not, and what their relevance is to the average business user.

”In terms of whether complexity is bad for vendors or good for vendors, and so forth, let’s take a step back here. In terms of the business opportunities in SOA or that SOA creates, first of all remember that SOA is just an architectural abstraction. How do you shrink wrap and make sexy something that’s just a three letter acronym?

”In terms of differentiating your value prop as a vendor in this market, one of the problem with SOA is that SOA essentially has an architectural approach, smashing and dissolving the ability for vendor lock-in, because everybody is implementing common standards with any-to-any interoperability. So, these SOA universes are getting so multi-vendor and heterogeneous, the complexity can be overwhelming.

”In many ways, the number-one opportunity that SOA presents for vendors are for those vendors that can reduce the complexity by providing SOA suites of software and other components, and secondarily those vendors, those service providers, who can provide SOA and integration best practices to enterprise customers.

”So, how do you shrink-wrap SOA? Well, these suites -- from the likes of SAP/NetWeaver, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, etc. -- implement all the piece-parts of SOA, the portals, the app servers, the databases, and the UDDI registries. Next, the Accentures of the world provide the warm bodies and warm brains of professional services to crunch this complexity down into greater simplicity, and deliver end-to-end integrated solutions that leverage the largesse that an SOA universe provides.”

Oops…I forgot to explicitly close the loop by echoing-then-answering Dana’s question before he sequed to Joe McKendrick…I almost got there…thenagin…’s me now doing so:

“Kobielus [july 16 2007]: To answer your question, Dana, the companies that are going to be worth twice as much in two years because of SOA are those that succeed in shrink-wrapping the SOA abstraction through a) comprehensive SOA-enabling software suites, b) prebuilt applications, business rules, data models, integration patterns, etc . that encapsulate horizontal and vertical business processes/content and deep domain expertise, and leverage the underlying SOA suites, and c) the professional services firms that possess the deep domain expertise, have tight relationships with customers, and with SOA suite/tool vendors, so that they can drive the development prebuilt models and apps that deliver on SOA’s promise?”

Yeah…nothing like 20-20 hindsight…or the wisdom of the “I shoulda said that” post-session hallway walk. Also, that’s still far too wordy….I gotta work harder on my SOA elevator pitch.

Or course, selling something as tangible as the iPhone is a snap…especially for a marketing/zeitgeist wizard like Steve Jobs. For him, this yet-to-be-delivered gadget was just a magic wand that he waved brilliantly over our slumbering New Year brains….and look what Jobs hath wrought. In the first weeks of January, the never-seen-or-held iPhone was just as much of an abstraction as SOA—just images on a big screen projected behind him at a tech conference—and thence throughout the planet—and suddenly it became excruciatingly fetishistically tangible in the minds of everybody who worships and perhaps fondles their iPods.

And now it’s quite real. Quite shrink-wrapped. And its elevator pitch is simply the product name itself—a mantra—an abstract, concocted word that functions like concrete poetry--states nothing, implies everything, sketches the object it embodies.

Which reminds me. This triple-haiku from me from several years ago (2002-2003?):



Big bold and sweeping

statements about the weather

sustain our careers.

Overstuffed inbox

ponderings on the latest

shrink-wrapped abstractions.

Disembodied voices

powerpointing plans for

soft world domination.


No, in the Jan 12 2007 podcast I wasn’t able to tease out any SOA-relevance surrounding this futures topic called iPhone on that particular morning. Or now, for that matter. I like to keep mobile/client-side discussions out of the SOA sphere, which I see as more of a development and integration topic than an access/distribution/delivery topic. SOA is so amoebic it gives me dysentery at times, trying to digest its many….[gross metaphor extension stamped out just in the nick of time]….But you might be interested in knowing how Dana rephrased the iPhone issue when it came to me, and how I responded:

Gardner: Jim Kobielus, do you see this as taking a step toward that notion of a mobile device that’s closer to a PC but does voice and other things that the enterprise could make good use of?

Kobielus: Oh yeah, for sure. But I don’t see anything terribly revolutionary in the iPhone, other than the fact that it comes from the Steve Jobs godhead. There’s no doubt that Apple does great design, does a great marketing, and does a great zeitgeist. They made a splash with the Newton and look what happened there. What in the iPhone is not already being used in corporate environments in a major way? People are carrying their iPods into the office and using them to listen to podcasts, or using their cell phones. They’ve already got mobile messaging and mobile browsers in a variety of devices that they’re using.

Gardner: They use iPods as a mobile storage device, too.

Kobielus: It's a nice design. I don’t want to sound to flip and cynical about it, but it's one of those things where Apple does a very good job, just like Microsoft does, of getting the average person on the street aware of the fact that we are reaching some sort of a tipping point in terms of putting these things in the hands of the average individual and the average office worker. Quite frankly, I’d like to wait another six to 12 months to see if this gets any traction in the enterprise arena. It probably will, but I don’t think there is anything strongly differentiating this particular client device.”

Then again, there’s never been anything strongly differentiating Coke from Pepsi. Except their relative mind and market shares. That all counts for something, I suppose.