Software AG Looks to SOA and BPM in 2008

Providers of service-oriented architecture (SOA) solutions may face a long road ahead -- or not -- as we look to 2008. Still, SOA solution providers have always had a tough task. SOA products are based on an IT architectural approach that requires getting management and IT support together on the same page.

Some SOA solution providers have recently acknowledged the difficulty. For instance, Oracle's Larry Ellison was cited by analyst firm ZapThink in December as saying that SOA adoption has been "slow." ZapThink analysts themselves haven't shied away at all from critiquing the reasons for this sluggish SOA uptake, with ZapThink's Jason Bloomberg editorializing on "Who's Killing SOA?"

One idea that seemed to plant a flag for SOA adoption -- around which both CEO and IT departments could rally -- was the concept of riding business process management (BPM) applications on top of an SOA. BPM would become the "killer app" for organizations, and SOA would facilitate it. An IBM architect embraced this approach. So, too, has Darmstadt, Germany-based Software AG, which acquired its own BPM product when it acquired Fairfax, Va.-based webMethods in June of last year.

Software AG also recently made news, by way of the analyst world, by breaking into Gartner's business process management suites (BPMS) Magic Quadrant report as a "leader" for the first time. The report, "Magic Quadrant for Business Process Management Suites, 2007," defines BPMS in a nuanced way, and describes Software AG's webMethods product as a "business process platform" rather than a BPMS. Still, the report does acknowledge (on page 2) that SOA is expected to have a facilitating role for BPM solutions over the next five to 10 years.

I spoke with Ivo Totev, Software AG’s chief marketing officer, as 2007 closed. He explained that Software AG had an overall strategy extending about three years back to add BPM to SOA as a way to address the hurdles that SOA faced in a siloed IT world. Totev came to Software AG with 13 years experience to help shape its SOA business. He worked at Progress Software, Forte Software (acquired by Sun), Sun Microsystems and SAP before joining Software AG.

Totev early on had worked with Peter Kürpick, Software AG's executive board member with overall responsibility for the webMethods product portfolio, on some of Software AG's key development lines.

"We had an early view that BPM could become a killer app on top of SOA," Totev said. "When you looked at the BPM market three years ago, there was a lot of human-centric stuff out. There was a lot of models to shape and define business processes, but it was tough at that particular time to connect those business processes to actual components in the IT operations side."

Software AG didn't have a BPM product itself, and so it looked to acquire webMethod's product to fill that void.

"For BPM, we were waiting for the right acquisition target," Totev said. "We understood that webMethods had developed in the last year a very strong BPM solution with very good adoption in the customer base."

SOA could help facilitate that BPM connection, but people needed to get SOA first, he added.

"Once SOA was understood, they would discover that from there on, it would be much easier to not only model business processes but connect them into something real and living in the datacenter, providing real data to real applications," Totev explained.

He added that they also had agreed that governance (the management aspect of SOA) would become a key issue as SOA adoption increased. Totev added that both predictions -- the importance of BPM and governance -- "were about right."

"People ask for SOA management, so we see this kind of market taking off and we also see BPM as the killer application on top of SOA," he said. "The BPM market -- especially for the vendors coming from the SOA side -- it's a very high-growth component in any of these portfolios. The more traditional human-centric BPM vendors have decent growth rates, but it's nothing compared to the SOA-based BPM approach."

The need for governance in SOA solutions stems from organizational complexity as companies have developed and reused services in an SOA environment over time. Totev described it as a consequence of the ease of generating services from existing and legacy code.

"It got so easy that people began to produce many of those services within an organization, which was good and it motivated people to go in the SOA direction," he explained. "On the other hand, it introduced a certain degree of chaos. Nothing is worse for an SOA project than having a couple of services that seem to do the same thing but nobody knows which one to use exactly."

So some sort of constraint model is needed with organizations, he added. Some of Software AG's customers, such as Credit Suisse and others, have addressed this issue by calling for governance boards, Totev said.

"In such a governance board, you would have representatives of the architecture group, representatives of the business line and also the developers, and they then would talk together on what strategic enterprise services that they would need." Totev added that "this kind of strategy really has brought together business and IT stakeholders to talk on common topics."

SOA in itself, with its service orientation, has helped internal business operations. Totev cited the example of Software AG customer Scandinavian Airlines, which views IT as an essential unit.

"Once they switched to a notion of talking about well-defined services with service level agreements [and] well-described functionality, it became much easier to describe to the stakeholders what work they are doing [and] what the impact of change will be, [and] what a particular service [was] touched or changed.

Totev said that there has been "great progress" in bringing the Software AG and webMethods teams together. The company announced the release webMethods 7.1 in September and its CentraSite governance edition in October. For 2008, Software AG has a couple of announcements planned for June, Totev said.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor, Enterprise Group, at 1105 Media Inc.