Q&A: Robert LeBlanc on SOA, BPM, smarter planet

LAS VEGAS–Toronto native Robert LeBlanc joined IBM Canada almost 30 years ago before moving to the company’s New York headquarters where he’s now senior vice-president for middleware software with IBM’s software group. ComputerWorld Canada met up with LeBlanc at the IBM Impact 2010 event where he talked about the company’s recent acquisition of Cast Iron Systems, and the relationship between services-oriented architecture, business process management and the smarter planet vision.

ComputerWorld Canada: With the news of IBM’s acquisition of cloud integration vendor Cast Iron Systems, what role does the cloud play in IBM’s business process management business?

Robert LeBlanc: If you look at any business, it’s made up of a set of business processes and all these interact in some form or another to make up what a client has to do to support the business. If you look at our capability that we’ve got today with SOA and BPM, as clients want to connect their data centre to outside sources, you have to worry about security, data, formats. When it’s inside my organization I have total control and knowledge and I can change things to fit together. When you go to the outside, I need to be able to connect to a cloud service. Cast Iron goes right in between that outside service and your internal systems instead of having to build all this custom code to connect your cloud servers to your data centre. So if you want to integrate your HR system with your salesforce.com, Cast Iron has predefined capability that enables you to connect. Whereas in the past, you’d have to give it to your programmers and they’d have to do a whole bunch of code that maps the differences between the salesforce.com out on the cloud over the Internet Protocol versus what you’d do internally.IMPACT 2010: New IBM framework targets transportation sector

CWC: IBM’s capability lies more in connecting on-premise systems. In the case of external applications, would you say the capability was missing for IBM?

RL: With most acquisitions we’re trying to fill a gap that we’ve got where we see a new set of capabilities or requirements coming from the client. We always have an option to build it or acquire it. We do spend billions of dollars building things every year but in some cases where it’s already built out where we think we can acquire a critical technology and we think it’s good technology, there’s a huge time-to-market advantage of acquiring.

CWC: Cast Iron Systems forms intermediaries with non-IBM products. How are you dealing with this part of the relationship?

RL: You’ve always got to look at it as what is the client’s environment. Most clients have competitive gear. So if you don’t help the clients solve their problem they’ll go somewhere else to someone who will. You can’t dictate to a client what they can and can’t use. From IBM’s perspective, would we like them to be all IBM? Yes, of course, but in reality that’s not the real world and that’s not the market. Today, if you look at our software business, we run on every single piece of hardware that’s out there.

CWC: How do you see services-oriented architecture and business process management interacting. Can one not exist without the other?

RL: SOA was all about interconnecting. BPM is just a superset. Now when I can start to connect things, we can start to dynamically change things. But first of all you’ve got to be able to connect. If you can’t connect it’s going to be hard to change. Think of SOA as really helping connect and building the next-generation system. BPM really enables you to now start to dynamically change the business processes. So one was about laying out the engine, now we’re building the car. BPM encompasses SOA principles. It’s the same fundamental style.

CWC: There was mention at the keynote of services-oriented architecture paving the way for IBM’s smarter planet vision. How is IBM making that link for customers?

RL: When you look at it, smarter planet is being driven by a lot of industry change whether it’s the telco or the utility industry and they are starting to match the physical with the digital. You want to really start to enable technology to provide the level of automation and information to build smarter business processes. The world is now really starting to come to the realization that we have to become much more efficient, much smarter, we’ve got to worry about the environmental issues. When we went into the world recession, government put aside billions and billions and billions of dollars for projects in this whole area. So all of a sudden now there was an interest to do smart meters, smart grids, to build out the health-care system and share information. No matter what industry you’re in, it has an impact on the planet and the way we live, the way we work. We just saw that as really becoming more and more important and we’re trying to show how technology enables that to happen. It’s what I call showing them the art of the possible. You don’t know what you don’t know.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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