It seems appropriate that 2004 should kick off with the announcement of WS-Eventing, a new specification from Microsoft, BEA and Tibco that aims to set a standard for notifying services of real-world events.
It's appropriate because it seems to coincide with a growing awareness that services have to operate in an environment that extends beyond the comfortable boundaries of technology infrastructure, and must accommodate the unpredictable vagaries of the physical and social world that we humans (and thus, by extension, our enterprises) exist in.
Analyst group CBDi, for example, declares in its email to subscribers today that its new year's resolution is to focus "even more heavily upon process matters, including organization and people issues." Its first commentary of the year reflects on how the industry is "generally focused more on the technology than the process, and we recommend it's time to do some reprioritizing." It includes the sanguine observation that, "Strangely enough our business colleagues understand the word process, as a body of knowledge and guidance for the task at hand, better than IT people." This strikes a similar note to my posting of yesterday.
Jon Udell's talk at XML 2003, The Social Life of XML (written up as an XML.com article), is a great resource for this kind of thinking. Here's his perspective on the crossover from technology specifications into real-world execution: "the schemas and protocols are just the skeletal outlines of business processes. The flesh on the bones is the context that we create as we participate in these processes."
I think that we're witnessing a growing realization and acceptance that, however good the technology is, it's never possible to automate the people out of the process and the simple reason for that is that processes belong to people (even when they're automated processes). Or, to put it axiomatically:
All processes have a social context, otherwise they're irrelevant.
So I think 2004 could well see the defining "hello world" moment for the whole of IT the dawning of an era when its output is finally, actually meaningful to ordinary people as they go about their day-to-day business.