We’re on the cusp of a new era in enterprise computing, one where Web-based applications are tailored to individual employees, said Alfred Chuang, founder and chairman of BEA Systems, at BEAWorld earlier this month.

Mash-ups — where we integrate applications or content into a single browser interface — are starting to move from the consumer to enterprise space. So what are the implications of this changing landscape? “The era of traditional packaged enterprise applications is over,” said Chuang.

This is the basis of BEA’s “Genesis” announcement — though execs were unable to comment on specifics at this time. Essentially, the emphasis will be on WorkSpace 360 with a combination of other technologies, as well as support for more scripting languages such as Ruby and Perl.

This will allow for flexible, real-time composite applications that help organizations respond to changing market conditions in days instead of weeks, he said, and can be tailored to individuals. “SOA was never meant to be the final destination.” Social computing is moving beyond Facebook into the enterprise. Along with business process management (BPM), based on a service-oriented architecture (SOA) foundation, there are productivity gains to be had.

Sony Pictures Entertainment is one customer interested in the upcoming Genesis. At its core, the company finances, acquires and distributes intellectual property. It now has 400,000 titles in a single global IP master.

“Despite how far we’ve come, everything’s going to change in the next 18 months,” said David Buckholtz, vice-president of planning, enterprise architecture and quality with SPE.

The entire business model is changing — from digital theatrical distribution to user-generated TV content. And the realignment of home entertainment distribution will require an architected approach to service delivery. “We see room for us to take it to the next level with Genesis,” he said.

Common interfaces into information sources and applications can help ease interoperability challenges that limit collaboration and knowledge sharing, said David Senf, director of Canadian security and software research with IDC Canada. “This value proposition of SOA to drive social networking should help lift the market in Canada.”

Controlling chaos

But there’s a resistance to the ad hoc, organic growth of applications that are not strictly controlled by IT, said Theo Beack, BEA’s deputy CTO. One solution is “controlled chaos,” where IT has some level of control, but employees aren’t restricted too much. So, as an employee creates and searches information and tags it, other people can find it — giving applications a more dynamic nature.

But management often has valid reservations about social computing, such as IP protection (how well protected is information in blogs and wikis, for example). Organizations are testing these boundaries right now, said Beack, but if you restrict employees, they’ll likely find a way to get around it anyway.

It’s also hard to determine ROI. But if you’re trying to innovate, social computing can increase stickiness, he said, and potentially get unexpected results.

One step at a time

Start small, said Shane Pearson, BEA’s vice-president of marketing and product management. Expose two or three services first, then show the ROI. If you’re trying to boil the ocean, you’re going to have a hard time, he said. SOA can be done ad hoc and quickly in one-off projects to save costs, said IDC’s Senf. In fact, some of it can be done without expensive tools (assuming a strong knowledge in XML schema).

Nothing comes for free, though, so it becomes a case of “pay me now or pay me more later.” If the goal is simply to connect a couple of applications or information sources, then corners and costs can be cut. But if the firm wants a broader use of services within the context of business processes, then “cheaping out” might not be a good idea.

OMEGA sharing

After the initial upfront investment, organizations can start to see savings when reusing applications. For Avis Budget, its goal was to be more responsive to changing market conditions, while maximizing ROI using SOA by extending the life of legacy IT assets.

Avis developed OMEGA, an SOA platform for delivering shared services across applications. “Prior to OMEGA, converting core processes such as rental returns to a paperless task would have been impossible,” said Ashok Kumar, director of services architecture information technology with Avis Budget Group Inc.

It created an e-receipt service, where hurried travelers can drop off their vehicles and walk away, and a receipt is e-mailed to them within seconds. This service is now being reused to develop other applications. As a result, Avis Budget has reduced reliance on mainframe-based applications, resulting in further cost savings.

eBay’s events

For eBay, IT is the business. With thousands of transactions per second, application uptime is critical — losses are equivalent to $2,000 per second, said Scott Clement, enterprise architect for eBay. So the company built a complex event processing (CEP) engine using WebLogic Event Server to discern complex event patterns or correlations across different event sources — such as server issues or fraud. “We’re proactive,” he said. “We’re not waiting for something to be detected.”

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