On June 28, IBM took the next step in its bid to become the leading provider of Service-Oriented Architectures (SOAs) to its customers. In a significant announcement, the company launched an initiative to help hundreds of independent software vendors (ISVs) and systems integrators (SIs) implement SOAs that use IBM's middleware. By reaching out to smaller IT vendors, the computer giant made it clear that it wants to make SOAs a reality not just for large enterprises, but for medium-size companies as well.
As part of the initiative, IBM unveiled several programs to help ISVs and SIs not only develop offerings on Big Blue's SOA blueprint, but also bring those offerings to market. On the development front, the company released a free online course that provides skills needed to implement an SOA with IBM products. Developers can also call an SOA Architect Hotline for project support or go to an SOA Partner Workshop to hone their expertise. In addition, Business Partners can obtain free trial copies of WebSphere Business Integration Modeler, IBM Rational Application Developer for WebSphere, IBM Rational Functional Tester, and IBM Rational Software Architect.
On the marketing front, IBM will provide SOA partners with discounted advertising in industry publications as well as opportunities for joint marketing. For instance, SOA partners will be able to participate in industry-focused road shows and access IBM sales teams to help them close qualified deals. IBM will also provide speakers to events that its SOA partners host and will assist them in other demand-generation activities.
Rather than launch its SOA initiative as a standalone program, IBM is making it a key offering of its PartnerWorld Industry Networks (PWIN) program. As many IT vendors know, PWIN is IBM's primary program for recruiting thousands of smaller ISVs and SIs that provide solutions for specific industries. While these vendors count large enterprises among their customers, most of their users are smaller companies, including firms that use IBM's iSeries server. Indeed, several iSeries solution providers have already joined IBM's SOA program. They include CIBER, CommerceQuest, DWL, i2 Technologies, Intentia, Lawson, SSA Global, and Triangle Computer Services.
IBM is also taking steps to educate customers about the SOA solutions that its Partners seek to deploy. The company has already held two online seminars on SOAs that interested parties can replay at any time. The vendor also offers an SOA Self Assessment tool on its Web site. Customers who use the tool can avail themselves of several SOA services that IBM offers, and development teams can bone up on the technical aspects of SOAs at IBM's developerWorks site.
SOAs as Ecosystems
As I explained in an article I wrote back in May, SOAs hold tremendous promise and peril for IBM. If the company succeeds in gaining SOA leadership, its middleware could become an essential part of hundreds of next-generation applications that use Web services. If it fails, it could be shut out of those same applications. Moreover, since SOA-enabled applications heavily depend on middleware to deliver their benefits, they will be the primary drivers of middleware sales in two to three years. As such, IBM must make its middleware the foundation of as many applications as possible to assure its ongoing viability. To do this, it must build an ecosystem of application and tool vendors that declare their loyalty to IBM middleware in much the same way that they declared their loyalty to operating systems a decade ago.
Unfortunately for IBM, several of the world's biggest application vendors are determined to build SOA ecosystems that have little to do with Big Blue's products. There is SAP, whose Enterprise Services Architecture for SOAs features its NetWeaver middleware. There is Oracle, whose Project Fusion applications will rely on its database and middleware to deliver SOAs. Of course, Microsoft's SOA initiatives put its .NET-based middleware at the heart of its applications. These vendors have vast networks of ISVs and SIs that rely on them for much of their business. Each vendor will leverage its network to build the SOA market share it needs to keep its middleware relevant.
As IBM cannot turn to these top-tier application vendors for help, it is turning to the tiers directly below them--the vendors who are most threatened by the Big Three--and offering itself as their SOA sponsor. Ironically, this means that the fate of IBM's middleware may rest not so much with the large enterprises that currently use it, but with the medium-size companies that buy much of their software from smaller, industry-specific solution providers.
This puts IBM in the position of having to sell its middleware to a market segment that has historically considered the company's offerings to be too complex and expensive for its tastes. That perception has been changing over the last two years because of IBM's Express software products. Still, the company has more work to do to convince medium-size businesses in general and iSeries customers in particular that its middleware and the SOAs they can enable are worth their investments. Since many mid-size companies are only beginning to learn about SOAs, IBM has the time it needs to gain their attention and trust. If the computer giant is smart, it will use that time to its best advantage.
Lee Kroon is a Senior Industry Analyst for Andrews Consulting Group, a firm that helps mid-sized companies manage business transformation through technology. You can reach him at