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Tough choices ahead in 2009 for enterprise applications

CIOs will face a lot of tough choices with ERP and other enterprise-level application upgrades, SOA projects and BPM initiatives in the coming year. If you have to keep a lot of balls in the air most years, this year will be more like juggling flaming clubs while standing on a high wire.

In such a circus, sometimes you just want to put off tough choices. “Just get through it and move on” sounds pretty good, right? Well, the buck may only be worth 79 cents these days, but it still stops on your desk. I think CIOs are going to have to figure a few things out this year besides how to keep the lights on.

And application software is one of those things. SOA, SaaS, cloud, agile development, rich clients – where’s it all headed? The large application vendors, such as SAP, that dominate the major enterprise categories have been rolling out their own SOA-based architectures in upgrades, and the same is true on the dev tools side. It’s likely that you’ll have to make some kind of move in the direction of service-based software well before the Dow returns to 12,000 or risk waking up, like Rip Van Winkle, to a world that makes no sense to you at all.

It’s a confusing mess, and it’s easy to see you could wind up in endless sterile SOA debates about how many software angels can dance on the head of a framework and still have nothing workable. The key to deciphering it may well be to insist on thinking of services as automated business processes instead of abstract technical tasks. At least then you know there’s an intrinsic business value to what you produce. Of course, you really do have to build abstract technical services, too, but making that a focal point is more likely to lead to the dreaded “technology for technology’s sake” dead end.

Many of you are hearing from the CEO and CFO that they’d like IT to pick up the slack from reduced office and factory staffs. That sounds a lot like business process automation. IT has automated many business silos, and now it’s on to the really tough job of automating the transfer of information and decision making between those corporate departments and their disparate applications. Times are right, though, to finally get a mandate to rationalize a lot of redundancy across those different application silos now tightly in the grasp of business owners. If your governance projects don’t include that, don’t expect much in return. Hopefully you can do for software in the coming years what you’ve done with consolidation and virtualization for servers and floor space in the last few years.

Speaking of virtualization, that’s another area where standing still could mean getting left behind, but I’ll leave that for another post.

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