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Building smarter enterprises

IBM Software Group has used the 2009 IMPACT conference to urge enterprises and partners to take advantage of the current challenging global economic climate and start building organisations that are smarter and improve business agility and value.

The conference which was held under the theme “Smart Planet” and had seen an increase in the number of participants that have come to share their successes in the Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) area.

Steve Mills, Senior VP and Group Executive at IBM Software Group says that in today’s smarter planet that is instrumented, interconnected and intelligent, the potential exists for enterprise organisations to improve agility and gain real business results.

Mills says inefficient business processes and barriers to collaboration can hamper business success, especially now when the economic environment is challenging. According to Mills, businesses waste 5.3hours per employee due to inefficient processes.

According to IBM, two-thirds of employees believe there are colleagues who can help them do their jobs better, but don’t know how to find them. In addition, 42% of people are forced to make decisions with wrong information at least once per week, while 91% of CEOs survey by IBM said they needed to restructure the way their organisations work.

Mills says by improving collaboration by improving collaboration between people and transforming business processes that are critical to success, organisations can become more agile and responsive to rapidly changing market conditions and better able to pursue new revenue opportunities. “IBM’s comprehensive smarter work approach takes advantage of today’s increasingly instrumented and interconnected world,” he says.

Mills said IBM’s smarter agenda should not be taken lightly because it is an agenda that acknowledges the fact that the world is getting smarter and IT is at the forefront of this. “Despite all the progress in helping to businesses to be more agile and work smarter, there are barriers to achieve this,” he notes.

Mills says IBM has unveiled “Smart Work”, a major theme of smarter planet as a way of helping enterprise organisations to build smarter work environments. Mills explained that Smart Work is about transforming organisations to take advantage of the capabilities of a smarter planet so that people can make informed decisions, build deeper relationships and work with more agile and efficient business processes and tools.

“We have unveiled new solutions and services in support of Smart Work,” he says. “Organisations will have to learn ways to work smarter by building dynamic processes and models, developing smarter collaboration, all on a smart SOA technology base.”

Mills adds that by working smarter organisations can embrace change by transforming their business processes and structures from disconnected to connected, from reactive and historic to proactive, from isolated to people-centric and from rigid to agile.

SOA hype or not?

Although service-oriented architecture (SOA) has raised more questions than it has provided answers from industry pundits and analysts who have gone as far as saying it is mere hype with no customer benefits at its heart, Big Blue insists SOA has more to offer clients that experts may suggest.

Mills vehemently denies the suggestion that SOA did not have customer benefits at its heart. “I would challenge anyone to find a company that isn't trying to make IT more efficient. They don't want five CRM systems or 30 ledgers,” he says.

Mills paints a bleak picture for companies not attempting to adopt a model based on efficiency. “The alternative is that all your apps are disconnected, your business ratios are the worst in the market and your company is on the brink of bankruptcy,” he warns. “SOA, enterprise application integration, it doesn't matter what today's buzzword is. What CIOs want is to run IT more efficiently and effectively, not to acquire more redundant IT. Everyone is on a path to shared services and greater efficiency, and this is what SOA is about.”

Mills was also quick to downplay suggestions that the forthcoming Oracle/Sun merger might have a detrimental effect on the future of Java. “Most of the vendors are existing licensees of Java, and Oracle is one of them,” he says, adding that Oracle has a huge installed base of Java users.

“Java is provided as source code, and we conform to the standards and structure to keep the Java branding. I don't believe we'll see a fundamental change in that.”

According to Mills, there is a positive aspect of the tie-up, noting that Oracle had been keen for Sun to move more aggressively to push Java forwards. “We think that the forces at play in the market will keep Java as a standard and consistent,” he says.

Challenges

While major application vendors are developing solutions to help organisations become more people-centric and agile, there is still a large number of enterprises that are still finding difficulties in building business applications and linking these together with a well defined level of service and business processes.

IBM’s Sandy Carter, VP, SOA & WebSphere Marketing, Strategy and Channels, says part of the reason why enterprises are experiencing challenges in this regard has to do partly with the fact that most business processes in large enterprise organisations are still siloed.

Carter says that IBM’s approach to working smarter builds on the company’s strengths in business process transformation and collaboration and making sure that these are interlinked with smarter SOA that help organisations to build IT systems and infrastructure that allows businesses to leverage existing assets, create new ones and easily enable them to become dynamic enterprises. “The new products and services announcements, and enhancements have been designed to help clients and partners build deeper relationships with their customers, increase productivity and work in a more intelligent manner,” she says.

Tom Rosamilia, GM, IBM WebSphere adds that working smarter means becoming more productive and cost-effective by taking advantage of the tools and information that can yield the greatest benefits in a competitive environment. Rosamilia says through the Lotus & WebSphere software portfolios, IBM is committed to bringing new collaboration and business process management capabilities to the market to better enable customers to work smarter. “These offerings have been designed to specifically assist organisations overcome some of the barriers they encounter when building applications that are linked to business processes within their organisations,” he says.

Rosamilia says since the introduction of IBM WebSphere Business Events software a year ago, IBM has focused on ways to help clients improve their processes. “The acquisition of ILOG in December 2008 further enhanced IBM’s portfolio in this regard, extending these capabilities with new business rules management systems,” he says.

He explains that as part of the ILOG acquisition, IBM has expanded and continues to expand technologies gained through this acquisition while also updating existing business process management (BPM) suite of products.

According to Rosamilia, the new products targeted at this rapidly expanding BPM market include: IBM WebSphere Buisness Events, Business Architecture Services, new BPM feature packs, enhancements to ILOG products that include WebSphere ILOG JRules, IBM ILOG Otimisations and ILOG supply chain management portfolio.

Business processes

In order to be effective, business processes have to connect to a wide range of systems and people in a variety of ways, efficiently orchestrating process activities as they flow between entities.

Rosamilia says IBM WebSphere Middleware and IBM Lotus collaboration support the orchestration of such complex business activities by helping to ensure process performance and integrity. “IBM has enhanced technologies from its WebSphere, Lotus and other IBM buisness,” he says. “The enhancement include WebSphere eXtreme Scale, IBM WebSphere MQ, IBM Rational, CICS platform, New SOA infrastructure healthchecks and Lotus offerings on Blackberry.”

IBM’s Mills agrees and says these frameworks contribute another essential element of a smarter work environment by providing a level of collaboration that will allow people to easily work together with greater speed and in cost-effective ways, helping them discover, apply and preserve expertise.

Given the strong showing and praises IBM’s customers gave the vendor on SOA, Mills also used the opening keynote to outline SOA customer examples. He cited Danish utilities company Dong Energy as one enterprise organisation that is using SOA for real-time monitoring and tracking of activity in its power grid.

He pointed out that IBM has put sensors on the power grid so that Dong can understand and identify failures and respond more quickly.

BP is another large customer using IBM SOA products. “It's a very sophisticated technical problem associated with oil refineries,” Mills outlined. “They need to understand all the assets in use at the refinery, including the human ones.”

To overcome this challenge, Mills explained how BP is using radio frequency ID and 3D visualisation to track its human and other assets to increase output and ensure safety.

So as IBM continue to go that extra mile to show the benefits that SOA has, it will be interesting to see which type on enterprise organisations Big Blue plans to lure as it helps businesses to build “smart working environments” that contribute to IBM’s overall goal of creating a “smarter planet”.

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