The Survivor's Guide to 2004: Business Applications

To-do list: Check for HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance; enable real-time enterprise and Web services initiatives. A tall order, but someone has to do it. Here's what you need to know.

December 19, 2003

13 Min Read
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SOA (Save Our ... Well, You Know)

The key to surviving 2004 will be to ensure that the products you purchase are fully hype-compliant. Support for SOA is imperative to providing an interoperable, flexible application infrastructure that can rapidly adopt new technologies as well as provide a mechanism for incorporating legacy applications into this brave new world of Web services.

SOA enables true real-time decision-making. The hallmark of the RTE (real-time enterprise) is up-to-the-second data on the health of your organization from both the business and operational viewpoints, and the glue holding this vision together is Web services. But to effectively take advantage of all the real-time data streaming to your desktop, you'll have to deal with data-integrity issues. Of course, the costs of keeping data clean and processes optimized are no small bananas, but the rewards are great.

A Clean Machine

A bona fide RTE provides its business-line managers with the aforementioned up-to-the-second facts to enable decision-making. But if the integrity of the data is in question, decisions based on that data must also be questioned. Thus, success depends heavily on reliable data. You can't achieve the visibility necessary to manage IT as a business if the data you're depending on is dirty; moreover, technologies such as BAM and EII (enterprise information integration) fail to deliver on their promises when data is unreliable.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the sheer volume of data within the organization is increasing. Through 2007, the number of enterprise e-mail messages will increase by 40 percent per year, according to a Gartner report on RTEs. The amount of data stored magnetically each year increased by 80 percent from 1999 to 2002, according to a recent study by the University of California-Berkeley (see "Data Overload: Keep It Simple").

Although a few companies, including ArkiData Corp. and Trillium Software, are beginning to provide the tools to resolve data-integrity issues, this is, for the most part, a nut that will have to be cracked by IT without the assistance of third-party software. Data integrity is difficult to maintain, but a good database administrator and better up-front data scrubbing in custom applications can alleviate many problems (for a look at how MasterCard stays on top of its data, see "Warehouse Data Earns Its Keep").

Once you can trust your data, technologies that will bite off a big chunk of your budget next year will be heavily focused on the business and its processes, and will increasingly introduce Web services (SOAP) into your application infrastructure. The next generation of portals, CRM applications and EAI will continue to increase the use of SOAP within the enterprise throughout 2004. SOA will be the "killer architecture" that drives innovation for the next several years in the application space. The anticipated release of Excel 2003, with support for Web services as a data source, will drive organizations to upgrade existing packaged applications and devote resources to implementing SOAP interfaces in custom applications, to take advantage of this new visibility into the data the business relies on.Also enabling the RTE are instant-messaging solutions and the next generation of portals, driven by emerging "portlet" technologies, such as WSRP (Web Services Remote Portlets) and JSR168 (Java Portlet API specification). A key component for success of initiatives in the real-time communication arena will be federated identity management. Information management solutions will be realized via the Liberty Alliance or a Microsoft-based initiative, but we expect a Liberty Alliance implementation in the short term: Products exist that support the Liberty Alliance, and Microsoft has wavered on the scope and responsibilities with its Passport road map.As we said, BAM will be one of the top initiatives in many enterprises next year. BAM is the real-time monitoring of business activity and will be a differentiator in the selection of a wide variety of packaged applications, including EAI products, Web service brokers and message-oriented middleware. A value-add to existing products, BAM is designed to enable the same visibility into the business as is offered for operational monitoring in many network- and systems-management solutions.

EII (enterprise information integration, which sounds disturbingly similar to EAI), is also being heavily touted by vendors. While EAI focuses on the integration of applications and the business process, EII focuses on easing the integration of information across the enterprise, simplifying the implementation of EAI and custom applications. EII solutions from Actuate Corp. (which this year acquired EII vendor Nimble Technology), Avaki, BEA Systems (Liquid Data), IBM, MetaMatrix, Snapbridge Software and other vendors aim to simplify data access by virtualizing data sources and providing a single point of access to all data sources in the enterprise. Rather than require that an EAI system connect to myriad data sources--something we've learned the hard way is much more difficult than vendors would have you believe--a better solution is to access data via a single, standardized interface, regardless of the interface presented by the data source. Although EAI will remain a focus through the next year, EII will become an increasingly elegant solution to the problem of disparate data sources by standardizing access for applications.

EII products are, for the most part, read-only and likely will remain that way for the foreseeable future. Still, they stand poised to replace failed data warehousing initiatives and are likely to succeed because they obviate expensive hardware, databases and ETL (extract/transform/load) tools to facilitate business intelligence and other analysis-focused applications. However, EII will not replace EAI and its kin because EII lacks BPM integration and cannot update data sources.

BPM and BPA (business-process automation) are both focused on streamlining existing business processes and making it easier to integrate new processes by providing modeling and code-generation tools that ease implementation woes. BPM and BPA are integral parts of the BPO initiatives that will become more prevalent next year. BPO will assist in discovering and removing redundancies, thus making business processes more efficient while providing better visibility into the workings of the business.The imminent release of Excel 2003 will drive faster adoption of Web services. Excel is ubiquitous and allows access to Web services in real time, providing up-to-date data access to even the least technical of users. Demand for Web services access to internal and external data will grow as users gain an easy method of accessing services on their desktops--much to the chagrin of the security folks (see "Dive Carefully").

For its part, Web services will continue to evolve into a reliable method of implementing B2B functionality and drive the creation of new markets, with security and management for this new architecture integral to its success in the enterprise. Microsoft and IBM will continue to lead the Web services market throughout the year, with BEA a viable contender as it continues to push the innovation envelope with its application-server platform.Microsoft will continue to dominate the small- and midsize-business markets, Gartner says, while Java will dominate in large enterprises. As a result, neither Microsoft nor Java will emerge as the dominant force in Web services implementations. New products ensure interoperability between the systems, and we expect to see Microsoft taken to task handily by independent software vendors and customers alike if its tendency to "embrace and extend" standards interferes with interoperability between Java and .Net.

Still, .Net will remain a clear winner in critical business apps in the midsize-business market, as CRM providers continue to adopt the technology with amazing speed. Portfolio-management products are also rapidly adopting .Net; this will push adoption of the platform into larger enterprises. Be prepared to manage both.

Long Arm of the Law

The U.S. Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act of 2002 (aka Sarbanes-Oxley) will require investments in several areas in the next year for businesses to achieve compliance. Some of the budgetary expenses should be borne by the organization--for example, increases in auditing fees and additional insurance costs--but some are unique to IT and will suck up a significant portion of your budget. Internal process documentation is likely to require an average of $1 million to complete, according to Gartner. Achieving compliance will entail new development efforts or the purchase of packaged systems, especially for e-mail and records management.

In an AMR Research survey, 85 percent of 60 Fortune 1,000 companies surveyed said they plan to modify their IT systems to support the compliance process. Although some products exist to automate compliance, these solutions are unlikely to be a panacea because they're narrowly focused on specific sections of the act, not on full compliance. Concur Technologies and Oracle, for example, have offerings to ensure compliance with Section 404, which requires that CEOs and CFOs certify the financial-control procedures used by their companies are effective. Nth Orbit offers a product to aid in developing the necessary internal compliance processes, but it comes with a hefty price tag: $100,000 and up.As instant messaging becomes an integral component of the application infrastructure necessary to meet strategic communication objectives, organizations abiding by SEC, NASD and HIPAA regulations will need to closely examine their IM and e-mail archival policies. FaceTime Communications, Jabber and others are moving to provide interoperable, secure, corporate-class IM-management products that enable compliance with regulatory acts while meeting organizations' archival needs.It seems that every year we list spam as one issue you'll need to deal with in the following year. Unfortunately, it's likely we'll continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

During the past year, the amount of spam traversing the Internet increased at an alarming rate--based on our own experience, 60 percent to 70 percent of incoming mail is spam. And where there's pain, there's money to be made--anti-spam vendors have popped up like mushrooms overnight and, for the most part, have been successful in assembling a slew products that, when combined judiciously, shield your users from the worst.

But make no mistake: There's a long way to go before this war is won. That's because anti-spam measures are still largely reactive rather than proactive. A new technology is created to block spam, and spammers change their modus operandi and continue on their merry ways. Leading vendors are implementing adaptive technology based on artificial intelligence, which holds some promise, but this technology is young enough that the archnemesis of anti-spam technology--false positives--is still a very real problem.

The recently passed federal anti-spam bill, under which the Federal Trade Commission could create a do-not-spam list of e-mail addresses, is little more than political grandstanding. It's unenforceable, despite possible penalties of up to five years in prison, and spammers will soon find a way around it. For now, your best defense is to implement a number of technologies at the various layers.

Finally, CRM continues to be a focus for businesses of all sizes and one of the few software markets in which the ASP (application service provider) model delivers on its promise of decreasing total cost of ownership. CRM implementations in smaller organizations are driving the adoption of Web services and offering a simplified means of integrating the technology with existing systems.The outsourced model continues to gain traction as ASPs provide offline access to data and enable Outlook to communicate with the hosted system via Web services, providing the 360-degree closed-loop management promised by CRM vendors but never fully achieved in the past. Salesforce.com and Salesnet.com offer fully integrated hosted solutions, removing the burden of maintenance and lowering the cost of acquisition.

Lori MacVittie is a Network Computing technology editor working in our Green Bay, Wis., labs. She has been a software developer, a network administrator and a member of the technical architecture team for a global transportation and logistics organization. Write to her at [email protected].

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JSR168 Portlet Specification: Defines a set of APIs for portal computing addressing aggregation, personalization, presentation and security.

WSDM (Web Services Distributed Management): Defines a standard way of using Web services architecture and technology to manage distributed resources.

WSRP (Web Servicesfor Remote Portals): Visual, user-facing Web services components that plug-and-play with portals or other intermediary Web applications.WS-Reliability (Web Services-Reliability): Seeks to support reliable Web services messaging.

XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol): Open, XML-based protocol, core of the Jabber IM and presence technology. Avaki: Provider of enterprise-information integration software that keeps enterprise data in its original location rather than consolidating it.

FaceTime Communications: FaceTime's IM management software is slated to integrate with IBM's WebSphere portal.

Fujitsu Software: Fujitsu makes business-process management/automation software designed to for accessibility to non-IT business users.

Jabber: Makes open-protocol XMPP IM software that runs on Linux and Solaris as well as Windows.Oracle: Grid computing, baby.

Quantum AI www.quantumai.com: EAI meets middleware.

Salesforce.com: Another CRM player, Salesforce.com recently hooked up with BEA Systems.

Salesnet: A CRM vendor competing in the hosted market, Salesnet is making a name for itself by partnering with vertical vendors

Network Computing's business applications white papers & research reports• "Serving up SOAP"

"Accounting for Sarbanes-Oxley"

"The Check's in the Mail"

"Fast Tracking"

"Blurring the Boundaries""IT Aims To Secure Instant Messaging"

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