Small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are demanding solutions that deliver immediate value today and the promise of investment protection for the future. These companies are increasingly facing off against large enterprises and, as a result, need an IT infrastructure that enhances their competitiveness.
In the mix of things to consider are industry-specific ERP solutions, cost-effective hardware, open-source software and infrastructure, a fast and easy implementation process, and a foundation for leveraging the long-term value of a service-oriented architecture (SOA).
Enterprise software vendors are being challenged to pull all of these components and more together to provide SMBs with rich, functional software solutions agile enough to meet their ever-changing needs, at a cost they can afford. In this environment, the SOA paradigm has a major role to play. In considering how best to leverage the potential of SOAs, SMBs can consider six basic business wants and needs.
Want and Need #1: The functionality must enable SMBs to compete head to head with large enterprises.
Central to enabling this functionality is an ERP solution that includes predefined content and functionality tailored to the SMB's vertical industry. A good solution should include standard products and be enabled for participation in an SOA. These factors combine to offer the SMB a solution that is easy to use and configure and requires few customizations.
Want and Need #2: The solution needs to be end to end, providing all the essential hardware, middleware, and software.
When it comes to investing in new software, SMB executives have a sharp eye for reducing cost and complexity. For a solution to truly meet their needs, it must consist of the required hardware, middleware, operating system, and software integrated into a total solution. The bundled approach spares an SMB the time and expense of evaluating different systems and then testing their environments. In addition, by choosing a solution with pre-bundled components, customers spare themselves hours of time negotiating prices with individual vendors and the angst that comes with buying individual components and not knowing how well they will integrate.
Want and Need #3: The implementation must be easy.
Further cost savings can be realized when vendors pre-install the software on standard IBM hardware before the solution is delivered to the customer. This meets the needs of SMBs for a quick implementation and fast return on investment. In addition, bundling integration components that provide standard out-of-the-box application services allows customers to get started with SOA much more quickly. Like their large-enterprise counterparts, SMBs need the ability to tie together business tasks and data across various application functions and allow for real-time access through bundled IBM WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) applications. In addition, companies should ensure they have access to specialized training that can help them quickly move from implementing the new solution to leveraging its SOA potential.
Want and Need #4: The cost must be right.
A lot of factors go into determining the ultimate cost of an IT project and, as a result, SMBs must balance many considerations in deploying an enterprise solution. The hardware, operating systems, and middleware must be chosen with an eye toward both modern functionality and cost. Bundling all the components for easy purchase and easy implementation helps to control costs and sets the stage for leveraging the cost-savings potential of SOAs.
Want and Need #5: The solution needs to lay the foundation for fully implementing an SOA over time.
SOAs are not only the latest industry paradigm shift, but they can also be a dilemma for SMBs. Complex and comprehensive SOA implementations are, as a rule, out of the question for SMBs because these companies generally lack the financial and IT resources to pull it off.
In most situations, SMBs also lack a compelling business reason to jump headlong into a full-blown SOA implementation. A good solution must address these near-term obstacles and set the stage for a full implementation over time.
The solution must provide what customers need to get started with the basics of an SOA. In keeping with the SOA paradigm, the infrastructure must be based on modern, industry-standard components and must support the componentization of software elements so customers can easily and cost-effectively adapt their IT infrastructure to meet changing requirements. Vendors must provide service-enablement to expose the rich industry functionality to the ESB for process integration and in preparation for future requirements, including process orchestration.
Want and Need #6: The solution must be scalable and adaptable so the SMB can sustain its growth and respond to changes in the marketplace.
An SMB must have the flexibility to upgrade its infrastructure as its business needs dictate. Over time, SMBs can adopt the full capabilities of an SOA or, if it makes more sense, stop with a partial implementation. The commitment by your application software vendor and IBM to continue investing in new SOA capabilities provides reassurance that SMBs will be able to keep their IT infrastructure current as technology advances and as business needs change.
A New Competitive Advantage
SMBs face business pressures that are as complex as those of large enterprises. And, in some instances, given their limited financial and IT resources, staying competitive can be even more challenging for an SMB. Advances in technology, in particular the emergence of SOAs, have given SMBs a new competitive advantage. The key is finding an affordable approach to moving toward an SOA that delivers immediate value, strengthens the business, and helps lay the foundation for growth.
Jeremy Suratt is Senior Solutions Marketing Manager, Technology,
SSA Global. He has close to 10 years of experience in the enterprise software market with previous roles at Marcam and Baan. His current work focuses on evangelizing the importance of SOA and helping the SMB market realize business value with this new architectural pattern.