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Tech Industry

SOA, the peacemaker

perspective BEA's Marge Breya says the software industry can't afford to keep dividing into contending camps.

    For the past 10 to 15 years, we have been treated to a mudslinging circus in the enterprise software market.

    We have seen name-calling, gross exaggerations, "leaked" internal memos, provocative earnings calls, "grassroots" user group blasts and a variety of other tit-for-tat antics. As Oracle OpenWorld starts this week, we can expect to see another round of mudslinging between Oracle and SAP--all of which may be fun for the media but thoroughly unhelpful for customers.

    Customers find themselves stuck in the middle, amid all the sound and fury, looking to our industry to provide real technology answers to their real business problems. They want solutions that take advantage of the systems they have in place, utilizing the best of their business processes and intellectual capital to help them get ahead as their business environments change.

    But when customers want solutions--not fireworks--chest-thumping partisanship succeeds more in alienating industry audiences than in advancing business goals. It poisons our wells of opportunity to work together and best serve these customers.
    You can almost picture our macho industry icons standing atop their software stacks--like siege towers--hurling insults back and forth.

    The mudslinging is mirrored by a polarizing and antiquated view of the industry landscape, where solutions are broken up into vendor-specific silos by platform, application suite and database. This is history repeating itself. Remember the days when people were fighting over operating-system APIs (application programming interfaces)?

    You can almost picture our macho industry icons standing atop their software stacks--like siege towers--hurling insults back and forth.

    Our view is that service-oriented architectures, or SOAs, will bring down these siege tower silos. We often find ourselves in the middle, playing peacemaker among competing platforms, standards and industry peers.

    As a company and industry representative, we shouldn't get locked into any one thing and then have some pundit say innovation doesn't matter, because it does. After all, rhetoric doesn't solve customer problems, innovation does.

    We strongly believe that a changing business environment requires fluid business solutions that are flexible enough to change with the times. It is our job as an industry to equip customers with more than just the best technologies. This duty should trump all other considerations, and it could bring us closer together.

    For the customer, the most innovative and valuable business solutions depend on enabling flexibility and reducing complexity in the IT infrastructure. We see customers embracing SOA to realize both benefits--allowing them to focus on developing existing or new revenue streams, retaining and acquiring customers, and developing new products or services. With their IT assets released from their silos, SOA customers can respond to change and make faster business decisions.

    The industry has come around to validate SOA--call it a "shift to the middle." Businesses no longer exist to fit what enterprise software suites can do for them. Developers no longer exist to populate operating systems with applications--like pioneer settlers struggling over limited real estate.

    Today, vendors are bending and twisting their off-the-shelf technologies to the SOA model, transforming them into Web services that can be easily implemented to fit any number of customer business needs across any number of platforms and devices.

    From an industry noise perspective, when solutions are reduced to content streams and services, picking fights with other off-the-shelf vendors seems particularly futile. SOA undermines those who bully customers, partners and individual developers to take sides among traditional vendors, platforms, applications and databases.

    Certainly, it is natural for a competitive industry that thrives on revolutionary ideas to polarize into militant camps. But our industry's greatest leaps forward have occurred when customers have shown the innovators, the icons and the tycoons where technology is really heading. Our industry will find that our long-term organic growth will be found in working together to advance technologies like SOA, bringing the best of our innovations to the workplace of tomorrow.

    So, truly, can't we all just get along?

    At the end of the day, the customers will demand it, because it's the customers who matter. And that's a reality more timeless than, well, Sun Tzu.