Dec 15, 2008

Downturn SOA

One of the repeated topics of the Innovation World conference was the world economic downturn. As a vendor, Software AG is looking at customers and prospects across the conference table that have scaled back IT projects, cut IT staff, and are hunkering down in survival mode.

During the conference, Software AG worked hard at building a marketing case that SOA is the way to go during an IT downturn... BPM lets IT and the business whip up new business functionality with a few clicks. BAM (Business Activity Monitoring) lets IT create a window for the business to see key operating metrics in a dashboard like setting (with the potential for detailed drill down). Sounds good in theory, though they struggled a bit as they haven't yet clearly formulated their message.

What's the reality?

BPM relies on a platform of services and functions which can be readily tapped to drive the process. Further, and this is the failing in many a BPM installation, it relies on the processes being well defined. While many a business process is often operating well - or at least stabely - it is often not well known as a complete end to end picture (it works, each person knows their step, inputs and outputs, but no one knows the whole process and all the inputs and outputs). Both building up (or tracking down) the function points and clearly defining the process are time consuming (aka costly).

BAM is even more reliant on having clear sources of data well defined. What processes can be monitored, which databases have the gold copy data to be queried, these can be surprisingly difficult questions to answer. Again, tracking them down and (in some cases) exposing them can be time consuming and costly.

In both cases the long term business benefits are immense. Insight into the underlying business process, being able see scenarios, model new ones and adjust corporate operation as impact is measured real time can be the difference in success or failure - which can translate into survival or not in today's marketplace.

However, the short term investment is significant. A well planned BAM or BPM project can define realistic narrow short term and mid term goals that provide reasonable value. But don't expect the magic shown in the vendor presentation to turn into business reality in the first year, or even the second.

That unspoken reality is making the vendor's pitch a hard sell in today's market.