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Friday, February 07, 2003

A tale of two CTOs
CTOs at two companies that are having a big influence on how web services are used changed jobs this week. At Macromedia, it was a move out for Jeremy Allaire, who announced his departure to join a VC firm. At SAP, Shai Agassi moved up to take over responsibility for software development from company founder Hasso Plattner.

Both individuals joined their respective employers two years back as a result of the acquisition of companies they had founded. Allaire was the creator of Cold Fusion, which now forms the application server component of Macromedia's MX family, and which has played a significant part in restoring the company's fortunes. According to the weblog entry in which he made his departure public on Wednesday, the split is amicable. But given Jeremy's insight into the emerging world of web services, it's unfortunate (and perhaps telling) that Macromedia has not been able to enthuse him enough to stay on. Geography may be a factor, though. He is firmly rooted in the Boston area, whereas Macromedia is very much a San Francisco company.

Agassi formerly led portal company Top Tier Software, and has become a key player in SAP's executive team, overseeing the introduction of the xApps plug-in component architecture and fronting last month's announcement of SAP's NetWeaver next-generation server middleware platform. Now 34-year-old Agassi has officially taken charge of all the enterprise software company's development, taking over from 59-year-old Hasso Plattner, the last remaining SAP co-founder still actively involved in the company's management.

Many people think of SAP as a huge, stuffy company headquartered in unfashionable old Germany, while Macromedia is still an agile, go-ahead web design tools maker based in trendy, fast-moving California. But in terms of enthusing and integating fresh blood into the business, this tale of two CTOs seems to show that SAP has done a whole lot better than Macromedia.
posted by Phil Wainewright 12:59 PM (GMT) | comments | link

Thursday, February 06, 2003

The language gap
If only we could connect, then what? Would we understand each other? Web services make connection easier, but meaningful communication depends on separate, higher-level standards for exchanging business messages. I've attempted to map out the various layers in terms that make sense to the layperson in my ASPnews column this week, The Language of Web Services. Here's the hierarchy in brief:

  • Web services protocols are like the long-distance phone network: "There's no guarantee applications that direct-dial each other using Web services will share any common language at all."

  • XML isn't a language, it's just a set of language rules: "In the same way that all humans are born with a gift for language ... so XML bestows the gift of language on computer applications, without in any way predisposing them to any given tongue or dialect."

  • The transformation tables that conventional EAI uses to translate from one application to another are no different in principle from a tourist phrasebook: "It only copes with known situations. At the first hint of the unexpected, it falls down."

  • Far better to learn a common language. One possibility is the neutral UBL, which OASIS released in draft form last week, but it risks sharing the same eventual fate as Esperanto: "The international language created ... as a culturally neutral means of human communication, [it] remains the preserve of enthusiasts rather than a medium for commerce."

  • More likely, all applications will have to be multilingual, emulating what happens in the real world: "a handful of de facto languages become dominant, and participating [is] a matter of becoming multilingual in those languages."

  • But beware, even if applications speak the same language, the semantics can still differ: "Misunderstandings often occur when humans converse by phone without sharing a common cultural or semantic awareness. Allowing applications to converse via XML on our behalf without first establishing a shared understanding runs the risk of incurring similar lapses in communication."

Universal Business Language (UBL), now out in draft, is at least a step in the right direction. An eWeek interview with Jon Bosak of Sun Microsystems — "UBL's leading proponent" — sheds some useful light on where UBL has come from and what it aims to achieve.

Interestingly, Bosak more or less dismisses Siebel's Universal Application Network (UAN) as irrelevant for use in a B2B environment: "I don't believe that any of the players in this space have really thought through what they're going to do with business messages outside the enterprise." Later on, he implies that XML standardization will help up-and-coming vendors to challenge the established top-tier software brands: "Processing a fixed XML tag set is vastly simpler than processing arbitrary XML. So I do think that we'll see the application space opening up to a much larger number of companies than the handful that dominate business software today."

I particularly liked his closing comments in the interview. Unlike much of the tech industry, Bosak has a refreshingly grounded recognition of how electronic commerce relates to the real world: "I think it's time for us to face the fact that electronic commerce is a form of commerce, not a form of electronics. People seem to forget that we're not inventing a worldwide system of trade; we've already got one of those, and it's taken about 4,000 years to put it in place. It's got its own methods, its own laws, its own systems of customs and taxation. It's unrealistic to think that we'll transform traditional business and legal systems overnight."
posted by Phil Wainewright 2:53 AM (GMT) | comments | link

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Balancing speed and agility
Integration vendor Cysive has issued a report that recommends dispensing with SOAP for high-volume applications deployed inside an enterprise, writes line56. "If we're inside the firewall, why do we need to get to http, which is a relatively slow protocol, and why do we have to do all this parsing to get there?" wonders the company's director of public relations.

Since Cysive sells a product that makes native calls rather than using SOAP when operating inside an enterprise firewall, it's hardly surprising the company should have come to this conclusion, but it's hardly a new discovery. There's no question that web services is a more verbose and less high-performance way of doing things than a highly integrated native implementation. When speed is of the essence, and there's no likelihood of needing to interoperate with other systems, then it makes sense to cut to a native implementation. But the important thing is to recognise that, by doing so, you're cutting yourself off from later on being able to easily add some external component or service to the system. If you do that with your eyes open, then you're making a sensible, informed choice. But don't it simply to achieve a short-term speed benefit, because you'll probably come to regret it later.
posted by Phil Wainewright 1:09 PM (GMT) | comments | link
What's new about BPM
The three-letter acronym BPM used to stand for business process modeling. Today, it stands for business process management. Howard Smith and Peter Fingar explain the difference in a column published yesterday at eBizQ: "BPM is a new type of software ... based on ... processes — a new, first-class information type ... BPM provides the fundamental building blocks required for developing complex business logic and computation without conventional software development."

In other words, modeling used to be a step in between the business process and the software development that was intended to automate it, one that mostly added to the frustrations and difficulties of successful process automation. In contrast, the authors argue, business process management allows business managers to directly manipulate the existing processes in an organization, including those that are software-automated. "The process model is the system. The system is the business."

The authors call their view of BPM "The Third Wave", which also happens to be the title of their book, Business Process Management: The Third Wave. You can get a good flavor of the contents from their website, which carries excerpts from every chapter, and from their earlier eBizQ column, the first of what is becoming a series. But plenty of readers have gone ahead and bought the book, which has surged as high as Amazon's top 200 bestsellers, and currently has a 5-star reviewers' ranking at the online bookstore, based on a healthy total of eight reader reviews.
posted by Phil Wainewright 2:26 AM (GMT) | comments | link

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