In the next five years, service-oriented architecture (SOA) will be used by architects and developers to create the next generation of "design-for-people, build-for-change" applications, but SOA won't do it alone, according to Forrester Research Inc.
Forrester analysts envision a whole new category they call "Dynamic Business Applications," which will be based on SOA development principles, but also include an alphabet soup of attendant technologies. The analyst firm is urging architects and developers to plan for the next five years by thinking holistically about SOA plus what it labels as the B3 technologies, which are business process management (BPM), business intelligence (BI) and business rules.
But it doesn't stop there. Defining Dynamic Business Applications as not only agile, but people-oriented, Forrester advocates also incorporating Web 2.0-style social networking approaches using Ajax and other rich Internet application technologies.
The technologies needed to build Dynamic Business Applications that may be commonplace by 2012 are all available today, according to a new 28-page Forrester report titled "The Dynamic Business Applications Imperative - IT View and Business View Trends." The next step is to use them in concert, say the report's authors, Forrester analysts John R. Rymer and Connie Moore.
The reason SOA and all its attendant design approaches and technologies are not resulting in widespread implementation of the Dynamic Business Application goal today, the authors claim, is because they are too often thought of in terms of parts rather than a whole.
In the Forrester view, SOA and BPM are too often viewed as improved technologies for application integration. Ajax is valued for creating improved user interfaces for Web-based applications. Social networking is seen as a "cool" way to attract users to Web sites.
"While these incremental benefits are important," Rymer and Moore write, "they don't create breakthroughs in the value of IT. Taken together, SOA, the B3 platforms, and Social Computing enables Dynamic Business Applications, a transformation of business software."
The word "transformation" is not being used lightly here. The Forrester report is predicting that SOA-based Dynamic Business Applications will transform how business people work in the same way that in the 1990s the World Wide Web transformed "buying and selling, marketing, software development (through open source), and most other aspects of IT."
"Applications that use all of the several design ideas and technologies associated with Dynamic Business Applications can provide much more productive experiences for businesspeople, make breakthroughs in the automation of decisions and business processes, and provide the points of flex that businesses need," Rymer and Moore write. "Our applications don't do this today. Our businesses need them too."
Some businesses are ahead of the curve on moving toward Dynamic Business Applications by melding SOA and the B3 technologies, the Forrester analysts say. As an example, they point to Washington Mutual Inc.'s online lending application, which uses BPM software "to automate process logic, business rules software to evaluate applicants and apply appropriate state regulations, and BI software to dynamically segment customers."
Another example offered is Best Buy Inc., the electronics retailer, which uses business rules and BPM to tailor local marketing programs for each store that take advantage of variations in things like product interest in a store's geographic area.
Vendors including IBM, Microsoft and Adobe Systems Inc. are already tailoring user interface products, identified by Forrester as Information Workplace (IW) foundations to give the business user the social networking experience that is the front end of Dynamic Business Applications, the analysts report.
They predict that most organizations "will start with an IW foundation like IBM Lotus Notes, IBM WebSphere Portal, or Microsoft Office to get base functions, a framework for services and processes, and contextualization tools." From that foundation a host of Ajax and Web 2.0 technologies may be added including dashboards, wikis, blogs and mashups.
Packaged application vendors, most notably Microsoft, Oracle Corp. and SAP AG, are already at work on melding SOA and the B3 and IW technologies into their products, Rymer and Moore point out.
They point to Microsoft's Dynamics CRM as an example of "design for people because it allows sales executives to access CRM functionality from the systems they work in every day: Outlook, Word, or Excel." The Duet joint project by Microsoft and SAP uses the Outlook user interface for business people working with data managed by mySAP 3.0.
While acknowledging design best practices are not where they will be in five years, the Forrester analysts still urge their readers to start planning immediately because they do not believe any aspect of IT will be untouched by this trend.
"At this stage, the requirements for Dynamic Business Applications are clearer than the design practices needed to create them," Rymer and Moore acknowledge. "But the tools are at hand, and pioneers in SOA, BPM, and business rules -- including independent software vendors (ISVs) -- have begun showing us the way. The time to start on this journey is now."