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Gartner: SOBAs will revolutionize application integration

Ready for another acronym? Service-oriented business applications (SOBAs) are going to change the way enterprises develop applications and do business, according to a Gartner research director.

LOS ANGELES -- So you think service-oriented architecture (SOA) is a buzzword today? Brace yourselves for the next generation of application integration acronyms: SOBA.

Coined by Gartner Inc. research director Charles Abrams, SOBAs, or service-oriented business applications, are the fruit of service-oriented architectures. They will enable enterprises to dynamically compose and decompose applications according to business needs. Eventually, they will link business apps such as ERP, CRM and supply chain management in real time.

Applications will be delivered as services, and vendors that are not delivering applications as services that can be composed and decomposed according to your business needs will go away.
Charles Abrams
Research directorGartner Inc.

"They will enable real-time uses of structured information to enable enterprises to be competitive," Abrams said Tuesday at Gartner's Application Integration & Web Services Summit 2004. "SOBAs are the key technology for business-process fusion."

SOBAs incorporate and work with Web services, adhering to standards such as SOAP and WSDL. Abrams predicts they will change the application landscape.

"SOBAs will be the death of the monolithic software provider," he said. "Applications will be delivered as services, and vendors that are not delivering applications as services that can be composed and decomposed according to your business needs will go away."

Abrams went as far as to say that if an enterprise's business application vendor has not expressed a SOBA road map by the end of this year, they should be "short-listed."

"Oracle, SAP, PeopleSoft, Siebel and others are expressing a SOBA vision," Abrams said, adding that SOBAs can also be built internally to leverage existing legacy code.

Paul Moyer, a software architect with a large U.S.-based financial services company, said his enterprise has had Web services in production for four years and is doing SOBA to great benefits.

"We are seeing significant reuse of stable assets," Moyer said. "We're seeing significant measurable cost savings as well."

Abrams identified four types of SOBA applications, starting with SOAP-wrapped legacy applications. These are the foundation for a migration strategy, Abrams said. Next, SOBAs will add new components that target horizontal or vertical industries. Modular enterprise suites will be the next generation of SOBAs. These composite applications could couple with the first two types of SOBAs to fuse business processes. Finally, composite SOBAs will be the final type to emerge. All adhere to SOA principles and will eventually take advantage of emerging standards such as BPEL, WS-Choreography and WS-Reliable Messaging.

Furthermore, Abrams predicted that SOBAs will kick off a business-to-business collaboration boom. He said that by 2008, more than 70% of companies in collaborative relationships will be doing so via SOBAs.

"We think 2007 will be a renaissance year in the number of software companies delivering applications as services in vertical markets and across horizontal functions," Abrams said. He did concede that SOBA success is not foolproof. Should enterprises not pay attention to underlying data models, the push could flop. Lagging standards development could also harm SOBA's progress.

Abrams put SAP, Oracle, Microsoft and IBM out front in the SOA market. But companies need to start building SOBAs internally in the short term to stay competitive.

"You should start now -- today -- and convert legacy applications to SOBA through SOAP- and WSDL-based integration," he said. "Identify bottlenecks that could stop real-time business process integration and think about business-process fusion based on SOBA."

By the end of the year, Abrams urges enterprises to push their application providers to state their plans on this front. "Many are not stating their plans publicly. You are owed a publicized strategy on how they will deploy new SOA apps accessed as services," he said.

Within two years, companies should be on their way to a full SOA deployment that emphasizes composite application development and full application interoperability, he said.

"Budget and plan to get your architects, IT management and planners trained in SOBA," Abrams said.

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