Archive for the ‘Tech Vendors’ Category

Making Internal Activity Streams like Tibbr Valuable

Rob Koplowitz of Forrester recently posted, Why Tibbr Matters. He provided some examples of where an activity stream across a network like Tibbr could add value, and some examples where it couldn’t. I responded with a comment and I wanted to elaborate on my comments here.

Activity streams tied to your company that are available through tools like Chatter, Yammer, and Tibbr have potential for adding value, but there’s some big barriers that must be overcome. In my experience, I’ve used email, Sharepoint and other other internal portals, and Yammer inside of a corporate setting, and there’s two simple objectives that these tools should have, at a minimum:

  1. Moving information from the privileged few to a broader audience.
  2. Making new information available that previously wasn’t.

On the first item, a challenge that probably every organization has is getting the information to the right people. The information exists, but it only spreads through word of mouth or to people that the information holders think need to be aware of it. The twitter model is the right approach for addressing this, by allowing people to follow people or topics of interest (either via saved keyword searches or hashtags), rather than having to wait until it is explicitly sent to them. In order for this model to work, however, all information must be public. As soon as private, directed messages come into play, that information is now hidden. I don’t see this as the bigger of the two challenges, however, as at least the information exists, it’s just not getting everywhere it needs to go.

The second item is the greater challenge. If there is information that simply isn’t being communicated, there is no tool that is going to magically make that information appear. The more information sources you have participating in the network, the greater potential you have for getting value out of that network. Why does everyone join Facebook? It’s the network with the greatest participation, and therefore, the greatest potential value. There’s a catch-22 here, because you want participants to get value quickly, so they stay in the network, but once you get over the hurdle, the growth will come. So how do we do this?

In a corporate setting, the participants are not just your employees. The participants must include your systems. This is why Tibbr is potentially in a good spot. Tibco’s background is not in collaboration or social media, it is in system integration. Unfortunately, all of the web-based request/response systems over the past decade have gotten us away from the asynchronous, event-based system design of the past. Even SOA tends to imply a request-response paradigm in most people minds, meaning I have to know what to ask for in advance. Both our systems and our people need to expose items of interest without any preconceived notion of who might be interested. Yes, we need to be cautious about signal to noise ratio, but I don’t think that problem is any different than trying to manage redundancy in an application or service portfolio. As part of your deployment process, get a list of the events/messages that are available, categorize them, and manage them effectively. If the Twitterverse can quickly come up with accepted hashtags, why can’t we do the same inside our corporate worlds?

Since I’ve previously asked for this year to be the year of the event, let’s do so in a way that allows these events to feed into our internal activity streams and social networking tools, and start getting real value out of these technologies.

Book Review: Troux Enterprise Architecture Solutions

I recently completed reading the book Troux Enterprise Architecture Solutions by Richard Reese. First, the disclosure: this book was provided to me by Packt Publishing for the explicit purpose of this review. In addition, Packt is also the publisher of my own book, SOA Governance. I have no relationship with Troux, however, I have had discussions with various sales staff from Troux over the course of my career. This post is a review of the book, not a review of Troux.

First off, the book is well-written. I never felt like I was slogging through inordinate amounts of text, the chapters were of an appropriate length, and the level of detail was consistent throughout the book. Not including the index, it’s just shy of 200 pages and was a very easy read.

As a book on Enterprise Architecture, I found chapters 1-5 and 11 to be the most valuable. These chapters focused on managing the IT portfolio, creating strategic alignment, optimizing the application portfolio, IT governance, managing the EA practice (roles & responsibilities), and generating value. If you are new to Enterprise Architecture and need some ideas on how an EA program can contribute value to your organization, read these chapters. Chapters 6-10 are more focused on describing aspects of the Troux platform, with lesser emphasis on the practice of Enterprise Architecture. These chapters discuss architecture modeling, transformation platform, metadata management, visualization, and TOGAF support. Finally, chapter 12 is a summary, but I have to call out that it had one odd section on EA and cloud computing. This seemed out of place, and frankly, unnecessary. It felt like someone said, “Cloud Computing is the hot topic today, you have to say something about it.”

In terms of covering the Troux platform, it is important to know that this is not a how-to book. It is an overview of the platform. The right audience for this book are people that are looking to establish or mature their EA program and people that are considering investing in EA or Strategic IT Planning technology. For a $40 investment, this book provides excellent insight into the Troux platform. When you consider the time and money spent in vendor selections, this book is a very small price to pay to give you a great idea of what Troux can do, without any sales pressure. Having participated in many different product evaluations over the course of my career, I’m surprised more companies have not taken the approach of writing a very easy to read book targeted at the people that are considering asking for budget dollars or performing evaluations. Getting back to the content of the chapters, from my perspective, I preferred the more EA practice focused chapters with mentions of how Troux fits in over the chapters that were more focused on the platform (6-11), but my area of interest is the practice of EA. For someone who has concerns about whether Troux itself will work with the architecture methodology or be able to share information with other systems, such as a CMS/CMDB, these chapters cover those topics. It is good that the author covered both areas, as not all readers will have the same objectives for the book.

Summing it up, would I recommend this book? Yes. While the target audience is a bit narrow, for that audience, I think the book is quite valuable. Its appeal is not limited to people solely interested in the the Troux platform or EA technologies, as I think it has value for people interested in either establishing or maturing their EA practice. Some of the other books I’ve read on EA tend to be very academic in nature, this book doesn’t fall into that category. Instead, the coverage on the practice of EA was very pragmatic, even if though it does portray a very mature, structured IT organization. If you’re trying to determine whether EA or strategic IT planning technology is right for your organization, I would definitely read this book before jumping into vendor discussions, evaluations, and POCs.

Tibbr and Information in the Enterprise

Back in March of this year, I asked “Is Twitter the cloud bus?” While we haven’t quite gone there yet, Tibco has run with the idea of Twitter as an enterprise messaging bus and announced Tibbr. This is a positive step toward the enterprise figuring out how to leverage social computing technologies in the enterprise. While I think Tibco is on the right track with this, my pragmatist nature also sees that there’s a long way to go before these technologies achieve mainstream adoption.

The biggest challenge is creating the robust information pool. Today, the biggest complaint of newcomers to Twitter is finding information of value. It’s like walking into the largest social gathering you’ve ever seen and not knowing anyone. You can walk around and see if you overhear someone discussing something interesting, but that can be a daunting task. Luckily, however, there are millions of topics being discussed at any given time, so with the help of a search engine or some trusted parties, you can easily begin to build the network. In the enterprise, it’s not quite so easy.

When looking at information sharing, here are two key questions to consider:

  • Are new people receiving information that they would not otherwise have seen, and are they contributing back to the conversation?
  • Are the conversation groups the same, but the information content improved in either its relevance, timeliness, quality, preservation, or robustness?

If the answer to both of those is “no”, then all you’ve done is create a new channel for an existing audience containing information that was already being shared between them. Your goals must be to enable one or more of the following:

  • Getting existing information to/from new parties
  • Getting new information to/from existing parties
  • Delivering more robust/higher quality information to/from existing parties
  • Delivering information in a more timely/appropriate manner to existing parties
  • Making information more accessible (e.g. search friendly)

The challenge in achieving these goals via social networking tools begins with information sources. If you are an organization with 10,000 employees, only a small percentage of those employees will be early adopters. Strictly for illustrative purposes, let’s use IT department size as a reasonable guess to the number of early adopters. In reality, a lot of people IT will jump on it, as will a smaller percentage of employees outside of IT. A large IT department for a 10,000 person company would be 5%, so we’re looking at 500 people participating on the social network. Can you see the challenge? Are these 500 people merely going to extend the conversations they’re having with the same old people, or is the content going to meet the above goals?

Now comes along Tibbr, but does the inclusion of applications as sources of information improve anything? If anything, the way we’ve approached application architecture is even worse than dealing with people! Applications typically only share information when explicitly required by some other application. How many applications in your enterprise routinely post general events, without concern for who may be listening for them? Putting Tibbr or any other message bus in place is only going to be as valuable as the information that’s placed on the bus and most applications have been designed to keep information within its boundaries unless required.

So, to be successful, there’s really one key thing that has to happen:

Both people and applications must move from a “share when asked” mentality to a “share by default” mentality.

When I began this blog, I wasn’t directing the conversation at anyone in particular. Rather, I made the information available to anyone who may find it valuable. That’s the mentality we need in our organizations and the architecture we need in our applications. Events and messages can direct people to the appropriate gateway, with either direct access to the information, or instructions on how to obtain it if security is a concern. Today, all of that information is obscured at a minimum, and more likely locked down. Change your thinking and your architecture, and the stage is set for getting value from tools like Tibbr.

Another day, one less vendor

The press releases came out today that SOA Software has bought LogicLibrary, with blogosphere comments from Miko Matsumura, Dana Gardner, and Jeff Schneider. I see this as a step toward the bigger SOA platform players by SOA Software. At this point, most of the players in SOA platforms all now have a registry/repository offering. IBM has WebSphere Registry Repository, Oracle/BEA has AquaLogic Registry Repository (consisting of the OEM’d Systinet and purchased Flashline products), Tibco resells Systinet, SoftwareAG has the former WebMethods/Infravio, Iona has Artix Registry/Repository, SAP has their Enterprise Service Repository, and Microsoft has their Oslo efforts. I think it’s safe to say that the vendors that are trying to be the acquirer rather than the acquired have all realized that a registry/repository is the center of the SOA technology universe. Now if only they could talk to each other easily along with the CMDBs of the ITIL technology world.

In my “Future of ESBs” post, I talked about how selling an ESB on its own is a difficult proposition because of the relative value that a developer will place on it. The same thing certainly holds true for a registry/repository, and I think the market has shown that to be the case by now having all of the registry/repository providers get swallowed up by larger fish. It would be interesting to know how many times these products are sold on their own versus being bundled in as a value-add with a larger purchase.

Is your vendor the center of the universe?

A recent post from James McGovern reminded me about some thoughts I had after a few different meetings with vendors.

Vendors have a challenge, and it all stems from a view that they can be the center of the universe. A customer buys their product and builds around it, thereby becoming the “center of the universe” for that customer, exhibiting a gravitational field that attempts to mandate that all other products abide by its laws of physics. In other words, every other product must integrate with it, but that’s the responsibility of those products. For reasons I went into in my last post, that doesn’t work well. It’s a very inward-facing view rather than being the consumer-oriented view.

The challenge is that even if a vendor didn’t want to come across as the center of the universe, for some customers, it is required. For example, if a customer doesn’t have a handle on enterprise identity management, a vendor can shoot themselves in the foot if their own product doesn’t provide some primitive identity management capabilities to account for customers that don’t have an enterprise solution. In the systems management space, you may frequently hear the term “single pane of glass” intended for the Tier 1 operations person. Once again, however, every monitoring system that deals with a specialized portion of the infrastructure will have its own console. It’s a difficult challenge to open up that console to other monitoring sources, and it’s a difficult challenge to open up the data and events to an outside challenge. So what’s an enterprise to do?

To me, it all comes back to architecture. When evaluating these products, you have to evaluate them for architectural fit. Obviously, in order to do that, you need to have an architecture. The typical functional requirements don’t normal constitute an architecture. You can make this as complicated or as simple as you’d like. A passion of mine tends to be systems management capabilities, so I normally address this in an RFI/RFP with just one question:

Are all of the capabilities that are available in your user-facing management console also available as services callable by another system, orchestration engine, or script?

Now, there are obviously follow-ons to this question, but this does serve to open up the communication. Simply put, the best advice for corporate practitioners is to ensure that you are in charge of your architecture and setting the laws of physics for your universe, not the vendors you choose.

CapeClear and Workday

I saw the announcements yesterday that Workday had acquired CapeClear. This is an interesting acquisition. At first glance, I thought this was just normal evolution in the ERP space, except that Workday just happens to be a hosted solution. After all, Oracle and SAP both have integration products that enable integration with their backend applications, so why not Workday? The part of this that is a bit distressing, however, is that Workday is a new entrant into this space. A big reason that these integration products exist is because every application had its own proprietary integration approach. As the need to integrate became more and more important, the desire to standardize the integration approaches increased, and led to technologies like Web Services. Workday, as a relatively new player in the space, should have been able to go with standardized integration approaches from the start, significantly reducing the need for integration middleware. There will always be a need for something in the middle, but it should start to look more like network devices than complex middleware. If this theory is true, then why would Workday need to acquire an integration middleware company like CapeClear? Perhaps the only reasoning in this is that CapeClear had always tried to be more that just mediation fabric. After all, I had railed on CapeClear in the past when David Clarke said, “We consider ESB the principal container for business logic. This is the next generation application server.” It’s likely that Workday actually used them in this fashion, rather than as a lightweight mediation fabric that I prefer. If that’s the case, then it’s entirely possible that Workday was in a position where it would be too expensive to migrate to a traditional Java application server, and CapeClear was struggling being one of the few SOA startups left with rough economic times ahead. The best course for both parties, therefore, is the actions that have taken place. It will remain to be seen how well Workday can support the existing CapeClear customers who are using it as a mediation fabric, since their bread and butter is the ERP system, not middleware.

Happy Acquisition Day!

Wow, I was very surprised to come into work to find out that Oracle had agreed to acquire BEA and that Sun had agreed to acquire MySQL. Based on the reaction of many in the blogosophere, like Miko Matsumura whose Facebook status said he was “amazed by sun buying MySQL and yawning at Oracle buying BEA” not many people were surprised by the Oracle/BEA deal. I actually was a little bit surprised, simply because it felt like BEA would stick it out as an independent, and it didn’t appear that Oracle was taking its “we will get what we want no matter how long it takes” approach as it did with PeopleSoft. That’s about all the comment I’ll make on this as I try to avoid too much speculation in the vendor space in this blog, but this was too big of an event to not mention. While I chose not to do 2008 predictions this year, all of those people who picked the no-brainer of more vendor acquisitions in the SOA space can check this one off your list only 16 days into the year.

The other acquisition was one that was very surprising in so much as not many people probably saw it coming. While not in the SOA space, it certainly shows that open source is becoming more and more ingrained in Sun. This is one that’s going to take some time to digest in the blogosphere to see what people will think about it. I think being associated with a bigger name can only help MySQL. As for the benefits to Sun, we’ll see. I’ll be interested to see what others have to say about it.


This blog represents my own personal views, and not those of my employer or any third party. Any use of the material in articles, whitepapers, blogs, etc. must be attributed to me alone without any reference to my employer. Use of my employers name is NOT authorized.