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Loosely Coupled weblog

Friday, August 02, 2002

Multisourcing services
Hosting, outsourcing and professional services are all merging into a single services ecosystem called multisourcing, according to veteran analyst Tom Kucharvy in an article published on ASPnews yesterday: "Multisourcing is a combination of professional services, mission-critical support, remote management and hosting services that are offered to customers in any combination they wish — from a relatively standardized hosted offering to a highly customized on-site solution."

The important element that all these different services have in common, he writes, is that, "in whichever venue — and in whichever way — these services are initially offered, they're designed from the ground up for hosting." So even if a customer elects to have all of their computing installed, operated and managed on their own premises, they're always free to migrate to a hosted infrastructure whenever they feel ready to.

This of course is laying the foundations for a seamless adoption of on-demand web services — whenever, in the fullness of time, that technology is finally ready for prime-time deployment. Until then, multisourcing is already throwing up many of the challenges that will have to be resolved, because providers are realizing that they have to work with each other in order to deliver a coherent and comprehensive solution to the customer, writes Tom:

"Ad hoc, or even closely integrated, bilateral relationships among a relative handful of partners are not sufficient to provide the type of fast, flexible, seamless solutions — or the single-source accountability — that will be required. Even if they are, they will not yield the level of repeatability necessary for delivering cost-efficient implementations with guaranteed high-level service-level agreements (SLAs), or the type of substitutability required to allow one partner to be replaced or supplemented, easily and seamlessly, by another. These flexible, multifaceted, multinational value chains will require predefined integration points and methodologies that are standardized across multiple providers at every level of the value chain."

This is a challenge worthy of Mission Impossible, he warns: "Pulling together a multisourcing value chain has requirements and complexities that Jim Phelps never even dreamed of." But it's precisely the challenge that has to be faced in the web services ecosystem, too. So what Tom is really describing is the evolution of IT service provision into a web services model, except that he's describing it in the context of the live, customer-facing challenges that providers face today, rather than as a vendor-driven push to adopt a new technology just because it's there.

Tom, who is founder and CEO of Boston-based analyst group Summit Strategies, has an excellent track record in identifying significant trends like these, and putting them into strategic context for enterprise computing vendors and customers. At the time I founded the ASPnews website back in October 1998 (when no-one except a few early pioneers had heard of ASPs), Tom's firm was the only industry analyst group that was already fully switched on to how much of an impact hosted computing was going to make.

But you don't have to take my word for Tom's perspicacity. The article, which was originally published privately to Summit's client base in April this year, includes this comment in its analysis of IBM: "It lacks critical business-consulting skills, however (although developing these skills is now [its] priority)." This week, of course, IBM rectified that shortcoming with its acquisition of PwC Consulting (in the process thankfully rescuing the cosultancy from the imminent embarrassment of its planned change of name to "Monday").

But there is one aspect of the article where I disagree with Tom's analysis. In his view, "major systems and systems-software vendors will drive the most effective multisourcing ecosystems," but I think he's underestimated the impact of web services standardization, which will provide a shared architectural underpinning for the entire universe of multisourcing ecosystems. I would argue this is a factor that gives Microsoft more clout than he gives the company credit for, as well as undermining the ability of any of today's big names in service provision to impose its own will on its preferred ecosystem partners.

But even though I always like to take a position that's slightly more provocative than Tom's, his views are nevertheless pretty controversial, effectively ruling out of the running some big-name contenders such as EDS and any of the large telcos. This insightful article covers a lot of ground, and anyone in IT services who wants to understand where their business is headed should make sure of reading it several times over.
posted by Phil Wainewright 7:34 AM (GMT) | comments | link

Thursday, August 01, 2002

Web services whizz kids
At the time, I thought I was joking, but it turns out that there already was a WSBANG, and this week it reached version 2.0: "WSBANG — pronounced 'whiz-bang' — makes Web services business-grade by applying security policy, optimizing performance, and institutionalizing best practices enterprise-wide."

The flagship product of web services software vendor Primordial, WSBANG is a perfectly respectable enterprise web services management product, competing with equally respectable alternatives such as AmberPoint, Infravio, Talking Blocks and WestGlobal. Yet just because the company has chosen a silly name for its product, it gets unwarranted extra publicity (like this posting). And that's despite putting customers such as Avis into the embarrassing position of having to make statements like, "[Whiz-bang] is a core component of our web services implementation strategy."

PS: [added later the same day] Thanks to the folks at Pyra for adding Loosely Coupled to the 'Blogs of Note' list on Blogger's home page today. To all my new visitors, a big 'Welcome'. While you're on the site, check out the AppSwitching Diary of how this blog was built. And if you have any feedback or questions, be sure to leave a comment.
posted by Phil Wainewright 2:30 AM (GMT) | comments | link

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

.Net levity
Last week's .Net relaunch by Microsoft is summed up best by these two articles:

I sided with Steve in going for humor in my own contribution on ASPnews this week. At first, I'd thought I would write a thoughtful analysis of how Microsoft had restructured its .Net strategy and what the implications were going forward. And then I thought, what's the point? There's no real substance there. Microsoft has no better idea than any of the rest of us how all this is going to pan out. As someone said to me around the time of .Net's unveiling two years ago, "This is just the smoke-and-mirrors vision statement to keep the customers and partners happy while they get down to working out what they're actually going to do." Two years later, we're all still working out the details, and the trial-and-error nature of the process has oftentimes been painfully evident.

One thing that is worth highlighting though is Bill Gates' definition of .Net (and thus by extension web services) as "software to connect information, people, systems and devices." Everyone needs to take this definition to heart. Web services is not just a system-to-system architecture. It's actually about connecting elements at all layers — ideas, users, computers and machines — air, water, fire and earth. All of Creation.

One final postscript worth mentioning is this ZDNet interview with Microsoft's senior VP of developer evangelism Eric Rudder, which identifies Microsoft's top priority for .Net right now: "Simply put, without a large corps of developers behind it, .Net will remain a pipe dream."
posted by Phil Wainewright 1:37 AM (GMT) | comments | link

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Pet Market showcases rich client capabilities
Macromedia has put together a fully-documented demo app that shows off the rich client capabilities of its new MX architecture. Taking the form of an online pet retailer (where have I heard that idea before?), Pet Market is intended to illustrate best practice for developers using MX to build e-commerce applications, and is accompanied by page after page of background information and explanations, including guest evaluations.

Among the guest reviewers is usability guru Jakob Neilsen, who gives the application a qualified thumbs-up. He highlights in particular the checkout process, which is implemented as a single page element consisting of several collapsible steps. "Users get a single overview of the entire process and clearly understand their progress. More important, going back to change data in an earlier step doesn't really require going 'back' in the sense that's common in web navigation. Instead, the user stays within the same context and simply opens up the section that needs change."

I saw a demonstration of a similar single-page form on Macromedia's stand at the InternetWorld show in London last month, and it's my impression that if Macromedia plays its cards right, Flash MX could rapidly obsolete the traditional HTML form for all but the simplest of processes. The demo I saw was based on an online booking process created for a US hotel chain, and the demonstrator quoted some remarkable figures that he said had been achieved as a result of introducing the Flash MX form in place of an HTML-based predecessor — number of pages cut from five to one; average time to complete cut from three minutes to one; successful completion rate increased from 15% to a remarkable 95%.

If this kind of achievement is commonplace, then Macromedia may well have a 'killer app' on its hands in the shape of Flash MX-driven forms. Here's how tech publisher and web services evangelist Tim O'Reilly describes the capabilities showcased in Pet Market: "Macromedia Flash can no longer be dismissed as a tool for web animation. It's become a ubiquitous rich client that will radically change the way people use the web."
posted by Phil Wainewright 7:09 AM (GMT) | comments | link

Monday, July 29, 2002

Web services stall big spending
People are able to do more with less when using web services, which makes traditional measures of market activity misleading. An InfoWorld story last week was headlined Web Services Spending Stalled, but a different story emerged when reading the article, which quotes Giga analyst John Meyer: "Web services itself has stalled the buying of tools and learning of new tools and languages, because companies realize they can use web services, and in some cases that they can do so with their existing skill set."

In other words, companies are doing a lot with web services, but they're doing it without having to buy expensive new releases from software tools vendors. Instead, they're getting by with bargain-basement open source platforms and low-cost standards-based tools.

Will web services sound the death knell for feature creep? At the moment, vendors are selling it as a feature enhancement, but as SilverStream's Fred Holahan comments: "We describe [web services] as more frosting than cake. But eventually, web services will be the cake." When that day comes, perhaps vendors will discover there is no frosting for them on the web services cake.
posted by Phil Wainewright 12:50 AM (GMT) | comments | link

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