There is no alternative to messaging. Your only choice is good messaging or bad messaging. This insight came to me as I responded to a question posed during editing of Loosely Coupled's latest feature article, Going halfway to SOA. "So what's the disadvantage?" my colleague quite reasonably asked, having read a pre-publication draft that asserted, "The advantage of building this messaging infrastructure ..."
There is no disadvantage, I explained, because one way or another, you're going to have a messaging infrastructure. The only question worth asking is, are you going to automate it? Most businesses don't. They automate discrete applications, and then surround them with a messaging infrastructure that consists of teams of administrators sending each other faxes, emails and frantic phone calls, trying to work out what the heck is going on or worse still, trying to reconcile what actually did happen so they can finalize the quarterly management accounts.
So the choice faced by KarstadtQuelle, the retail company described in the article, was no real contest. It was clearly at a disadvantage if it didn't automate its messaging infrastructure. That wasn't a matter for debate. The only choice was how.
No business can exist without a messaging infrastructure, because it can't function without communications. And the more complex the organization becomes, the more communication it needs. Above a certain size, it becomes essential to start automating its messaging, otherwise the business becomes unmanageable.
The trouble is, most businesses grossly underestimate the complexity of their existing messaging infrastructure when they embark on an automation project. Indeed, they're inclined to wish it will go away entirely, and are easily swayed by smooth-talking technology vendors who persuade them that a slick new enterprise software suite will sweep away all that pesky administrative muddle.
The sad result of this wishful thinking is that new systems usually succeed in automating only a portion of the existing business infrastructure, leaving important elements still depending on manual messaging processes, at the same time as introducing unforeseen extra gaps in the messaging fabric of the enterprise.
The only lasting solution is one that aims to automate all the inherent complexity of organizational messaging. Enterprises need an adaptable, agile automated-messaging infrastructure because they have unusally complex messaging needs. In the past, technology vendors have been inclined to underestimate the importance of messaging because they couldn't offer very sophisticated messaging capabilities. Now that XML-based services architectures are starting to get established, there are technology solutions that make it possible to automate all the richness of the end-to-end business messaging infrastructure. It's no longer a question of whether. It's simply a matter of how.