Wednesday, April 30, 2008

FOA v3 of 3


SOA’s strength is in its inner abstraction, its paradigmatic focus on the goal of maximizing sharing, reuse, and interoperability of key corporate resources over networks, thanks to open standards.

SOA’s goals are laudable, but now we have the presentation, access, delivery, and socialization layers to consider. Socialization layer? You mean social networking? You mean wikis, collaborative bookmarking, and all of that Web 2.0 stuff that keeps on innovating so fast that no clear design patterns, hence no stable interoperability specs, can emerge?

How can we define standards to support sharing, reuse, and interoperability in an emerging network computing fabric that steadfastly refuses to settle down and decide what it wants to do when it grows up?

In which friends organize architectures, and failures only accelerate the push toward some simpler, less abstract, more practical architecture that totally works.

Whether or not we analysts have conceptualized it all in every fine detail in advance.


FOA v2 of 3


SOA’s failure isn’t so much a fault of the vision, as it is a reluctance to recognize that any particular middleware implementation will soon be obsoleted by something much grander, and fuzzier.

Perfect example: SOA--which many of us have predicated on the notion of universal adherence to abstract interfaces that leverage XML and WS-* specifications--is gradually being abstracted in a broader paradigm that some have called Web-Oriented Architecture (WOA), which is essentially Web 2.0 plus Representational State Transfer (REST), and for which many of the most important high-level patterns, such as social networking, have no clear reference frameworks. WOA nelly! What’s to become of the messy but reasonably coherent SOA stack in a world where there’s no clear commitment to standardizing on interoperability specs that go much beyond bare-bones HTTP, HTML, and JavaScript?

Besides, WOA is primarily a phenomenon of the presentation, access, delivery, and socialization layer, a domain that SOA never seriously attempted to penetrate. WOA is exposing the inherent limitations of the SOA vision, which have been there from the start.

If you consistently acknowledge the limits of your vision, feasibility and flexibility considerations will inevitably open your architecture.


FOA v1 of 3


SOA’s f*cked, some say, but I don’t hold with the naysayers.

Anne Thomas Manes of Burton Group has spread this notion that SOA’s a failure because few enterprises have come anywhere close to the nirvana of 100 percent service reuse. But my feeling is that that’s like saying democracy’s a failure because we’ve never come close to 100 percent voter turnout in any specific election.

If you like, you can posit a utopian ideal and then declare the world a failure because it hasn’t signed up to your vision. Or you can declare your vision a vision and then commit yourself to pushing the world in that direction little by little for the rest of your life. The open issue is: Do you see yourself living this vision till the end of your days? Can you live with the possibility that your vision, however much it gives your life purpose, is regarded by others as an impractical pet cause that sets you apart from the pack, and not in a good way?

If you’re prepared to push that boulder up a hill, if you’re so bold that you can’t rest till your vision is in everybody’s sights, then you’re a true visionary. And you might stand a chance of succeeding against all odds. Then you’re the Al Gore of SOA, weathering disdain with full knowledge that the facts bear you out and history will judge you kindly.

If a bare majority consistently sides with your vision, fate will ordain your architecture.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The R-Word Chronicles, Vol. *********


There comes a point when a recession just starts to drag. You’ve long since absorbed the shock. You’re tired of being reminded of it all. You dread the flatness of every new day. You’re more than ready to flatline the whole sorry experience and move on.

We’re barely into our current recession and I didn't realize how sick I've become of it till this little bit of beauty popped into my browser: Was Data Integration a Factor in the Subprime Mortgage Crisis? In it, Tony Fisher of SAS/DataFlux tries, not very successfully, to blame the subprime crisis on lenders’ failure to load up on the magic elixirs of data quality and master data management--which, conveniently, are exactly what he’s selling.

Judge for yourself:

  • “Fisher: It is absolutely true that better data management, data quality, data integration practices could have help identify where things were headed.”
  • “Fisher: What happens today is that you can go online, fill out a couple of forms, click a few buttons and wait a few seconds, and all of a sudden it will come back and say that you’ve been approved. But today, that same type of scrutiny wasn’t (going on) leading up to the crisis. … one of the many reasons falls squarely on the shoulders of the lenders, because they were getting information from potential mortgage buyers, and they were not scrutinizing that data appropriately, not insuring that the data was correct, and that led to an inflated amount of risk the lenders were undertaking. So was the data there, could the data have been used? Absolutely, but it couldn’t be just the data. You had to put the data and the process practices in place together.”

Hey, wait a moment. That’s not a data quality issue, in the sense that it would be possible to fix it with data profiling, matching, merging, and standardization. Rather, it’s a loan quality issue, exacerbated by lenders’ failure to vet the acquired data against other sources prior to approving the bad loans. On their part, it represented a knowing, willful disregard for the risks associated with subprime loans, which were motivated by pure greed. Well, Fisher tries to have it both ways:

  • “Fisher: So, at the end of the day, a lot of the subprime mortgage crisis really did have to do with the lack of risk assessment. And risk assessment is something your data will indeed bring forward. All the information is in the data, but you have to use the data.”

Let’s get real here. My sense is the subprime lenders did indeed use the (junk) data to justify their (junk) lending decisions with full knowledge of the risks, which they, apparently, considered acceptable until it was too damn late. No amount of technology will keep you from shooting yourself in the foot if you’re so inclined. No matter how trustworthy your data, if it’s in the hands of untrustworthy decision makers, you're screwed.

Yes, I cover business intelligence, decision support, data quality, master data management, and governance risk compliance systems for a living. But I'm not a kool-aid drinker. I don’t imagine that these technologies automatically produce intelligent decisions for managing risk.

So, at the end of the day, people make stupid decisions, in unison, all throughout the economy, all the while thinking that what they’re doing is acceptable by prevailing standards. And they're quick to point their fingers elsewhere--such as at other people's failure to use some magical technological cure-all--to explain why the economy is suddenly starting to tank.

Hence, recessions. Hence the fact that we never learn.


Friday, April 04, 2008

The R-Word Chronicles, Vol. 8


Ah, yes, the head honcho utters the taboo word in an official public statement, and so it now may be discussed in polite company. But with rhetorical tongs, such as air quotes, or excessively noncommittal “let’s leave this to the experts” hedging and hawing, or a rushed delivery strongly hinting at “let’s discuss the weather instead.”

What precisely is Papa’s delicate condition? “Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said for the first time that the U.S. could slip into recession this year, using a word that other government officials including President Bush have gone to great lengths to avoid. ‘A recession is possible,’ Mr. Bernanke told a congressional committee Wednesday, citing turmoil in the housing and credit markets. He added, ‘We're slightly growing at the moment, but we think that there's a chance that for the first half as a whole there might be a slight contraction.’ His comments risk adding to economic gloom. But they also won praise from some economists as [blah blah blah] ...”

Speaking of hedging and hawing, how about that Bernanke with his “a recession is possible,” coupled with “we’re slightly growing,” and “we think that there’s a chance...for a slight contraction”? For an example of the same at a micro-economic level, in my bread-and-butter area of business intelligence (BI), check out Mike Schiff’s recent article “The Impact of a Recession on the BI Market.” It’s a good article, and what he says re the potential for BI to help enterprises weather a recession is pretty much the same as I argued in the Network World article that is also Vol. 1 of this thread. But, seriously, come on Mike, you have watered down the current economic situation into an exquisitely flavorless broth: “There has been much speculation about the effects of a possible recession on the business intelligence market and how this could adversely affect customer spending and associated vendor revenues. While caution is certainly advised, I suspect that these concerns are much too pessimistic and that a general business slowdown may have little detrimental effect on the BI industry. In fact, it might even result in increased BI spending.”

Getting back to the macroeconomic situation, it’s funny that the ideological pendulum has swung in the direction of tighter regulation to keep the US economy from drifting further into the doldrums. Even a conservative Republican administration is now advocating a crack-the-whip anti-laissez-faire approach to re-regulating the securities industry in the wake of the subprime mess (contrast this with Republican Herbert Hoover’s snoozing response to the stock-market crash of 1929, or Republican Ronald Reagan’s “get government off our backs” response to the persistent stagflation of the 70s/80s).

Even those recent regulatory initiatives that had started to fall out of favor are finding new life under stormy skies. “Even at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's annual conference on capital markets this week, there was a marked shift in tone from last year, when Sarbanes-Oxley was blamed for making U.S. markets less attractive to overseas investors. ‘An increasing appreciation for the internal controls is emerging,’ Jim Turley, chief executive of accounting firm Ernst & Young, said at the Chamber conference, where many of the pro-business speakers said there may be a need for more regulation.”

Ah, yes, the new-old R-word: regulation.

That’s still taboo, isn’t it?


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The R-Word Chronicles, Vol. 7


Mostly, a recession is a spiritual slough that threatens to drag us down, a long overcast period that seems to drag on and on. Everybody develops their own strategy for coping with woes of indeterminate duration.

Pockets of hope--some of them fleeting--exist in every slow period. For starters, everybody knows that the clouds will clear reasonably soon--in a few quarters, or at the most a few years. Generally, we fancy ourselves with the notion that this rough patch won’t be all that deep, or all that long. Hence, recent headlines such as U.S. Recession will End in Q4, which take hope from the Bush administration’s and the Fed’s recent actions to stimulate the economy and ramp up regulation over a broader swath of the securities market in the wake of the subprime mortgage mess. But, quite frankly, I find myself unnerved by overly optimistic “government will come to our rescue” statements. Such as “these interventions are bound to have a positive impact on the economy.” And “these measures along with the renewed optimism about an anticipated change in presidential administration will pull the economy out the recession by Q4.” I hope these prophecies come true, but I have a degree in economics and know full well that government can just as easily mis-time its measures or otherwise destabilize an already shaky system.

Some draw hope from the globalization of the world economy, with steady demand growth in emerging markets such as India, China and Brazil offsetting any slack in the US and other established economic powers. Also, outsourcing, especially of IT-related jobs, will likely remain a growth industry, both offshore and domestically. Hence, the recent Computerworld article, Recession unlikely to curb H-1B demand, which notes that “[US] demand for foreign workers, including skilled software developers and other IT professionals, [is] still rising as economic conditions grow steadily worse.” It also notes that offshore IT outsourcing firms are going onshore to a degree to get around US visa limits, even in the face of a recession. “Last July, Wipro Ltd. announced plans to build a 1,000-worker software development center in Atlanta. And Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. said this month that it is opening a services delivery center near Cincinnati. Tata, which has more than 16,000 employees scattered at client sites in the U.S., plans to mostly hire locals -- initially, about 500 people -- at the new facility.”

And, of course, many take comfort in their ability to leverage diverse skills in order stay employable in tough times--especially if they’re an old codger like me who has been in the workforce for decades. Hence, a recent article in Computerworld, “Opinion: Building a recession-resistant career.” This opinion piece, written by an executive in an IT placement firm, dishes out the sort of all-purpose advice that applies in good times and bad, and at all stages in your career. “Those who continually update their skills and build their networks keep themselves in high demand when employers start tightening their belts.” And then it provides a list of IT skills currently in demand, most of them in app development and system admin. The piece also stresses “soft skills” such as problem-solving, business acumen and interpersonal communication to differentiate the most promising job candidates from the sullen, tangle-tongued uber-geeks of this world.

All fine and good, but nothing you’re not already doing out of sheer habit...I presume. Which leads me to one more point to close out this post. Since we’re dealing in the blindingly obvious, enduring recession--or any other streak of stormy weather--with your spirit intact is as simple as getting out of bed the same time every morning, looking at yourself in the same mirror, and telling yourself, a la an Al Franken character, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, gosh darn it, I’m employable.”

Or, hopefully, already employed. And hanging in there. Going out for coffee.