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Designing Applications For Constant Change

Here’s a radical thought: Enterprise software applications in the 21st century are headed for the same kind of upheaval that affected enterprise hardware in the 20th century. Think about it: in the glass house, there was a neat boundary around the mainframe, and the MIS department guarded the border carefully. Then, with the advent of minicomputers and networked PCs, the boundaries of the enterprise began to expand just a little bit. Today, with Blackberries, laptops, and PDAs, the boundaries around hardware are almost completely amorphous.

The same thing is happening to enterprise applications. Instead of existing as completely discrete entities, those on the cutting edge draw information from any number of databases and systems, whether within your organization or in those of your partners, outsourcing firms, or suppliers. So where are the boundaries? Shouldn’t they be designed to accommodate changing business processes, so that they can be updated quickly and easily, as competitive and regulatory demands dictate?

Experts have dubbed this new breed “composite applications,” incorporating everything from Web services to middleware to APIs. In this Q&A, Forrester Research analyst John Rymer talks about how IT departments can focus on creating these highly flexible applications.

Q: How are you defining composite applications, and what would you use to build them?

A: Composite applications focus on process, rather than automation. They encompass multiple functions—sometimes mediated by humans—and systems. They span multiple business areas, pulling data from multiple systems, and they tend to be owned by different groups.

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