Thursday, September 20, 2007

Professional IT and why you don't hear it

Speaking to a very interesting and smart chap from IBM at the conference today called Max from IBM Research who is looking at the Web 2.0 technologies and their growth he asked a very good question....

First the setting. There was a panel on SOA Runtime and the WS-* v REST question came up. I repeated the quote "want to be cool do REST, want a career do WS" just to be provocative really (and interestingly got a round of applause from the audience...). The proper answer was the one that Gregor said which is that there are two worlds, the enterprise, transactional and integration one (the big one) and the interactional one (the small one) and that they require different models. Something I agree with.

The discussion with Max afterwards was around what he sees as the "explosion" of REST APIs (900 at the last count apparently) and I pointed out that Oracle and SAP alone probably have double that, even before you go to internal and commercial implementations. His question was simple

"Why don't you hear about that?"

The answer?

The people who work in these area tend to be employed and doing it as part of their job. Their main interest isn't therefore in the technology as a thing but in the objective of getting it live. Tony put this well on the panel saying that "the focus isn't on technology its on operation, if its not operational it doesn't count". People who work on large scale enterprise IT therefore on the most part see technology as a tool to get the job done, rather than as the end in itself. Its also something that they do for a living and therefore "normal". This is the big reason that you don't hear from people in all of these enterprise companies, they often don't realise that what they are doing is special, because hell it works why is that impressive? The point for them is doing business better so the story is "new automated fish selling solution for the abstract art industry" not "we used Web Services to connect some stuff".

This later one is also the "where is the news" point. "Company uses Web Services successfully" isn't news, its not shiny so why would anyone write about it? News is about what is next and what is.... well "new". Doing something successfully with the existing technologies isn't a big deal, its what people expect. They get written up as Case studies where the word "Web Service" is just a remark (at best) as the concentration is on the operational solution.

Things like Java SE 6 are indicative of the problem that we face in IT these days, it was aimed squarely at what I like to think of as the ADHD part of IT, or as Andy Hedges puts it the "ooooh string" crowd. The voices from professional IT do it for a living and don't have much of an interest in raising their heads above the parapet and pointing out that they are already using Web Services and have been for many years and that they are now using BPEL successfully in their organisation. There is an assumption made that because they don't blog about it that it isn't happening.

There is a way that these people make their voices heard however, its via standards bodies, professional bodies and most importantly in the procurement of billions of dollars of IT systems, technologies and solutions every year. The likes of SAP, Oracle and IBM are the bell weathers of this market and you can see what their clients are demanding by seeing where the main focus of their work is (they often also have the "string" as well as it helps them sell better). The problem is that because these people have a day job that is focused on objectives they don't have the time to blog, join technology committees, etc So their involvement is very low per capita in comparison with vendors and the blogosphere, its also not "interesting" as its their day job so why on earth would they want to talk about it more?

As Gregor said there are two models, one around interaction and one around transaction and they require different approaches and thought. But one thing that is for certain is that it is the IT professionals in enterprises and the large software vendors who will eventually decide how both worlds will work, and as before the successful ones will continue to see technology as part of the solution to achieve their objectives and not as the objective in itself.

Convincing more of these organisations and people to get actively involved with standards and vendors is a big challenge, because they already have a day job. But without exception when they do get engaged it makes for better standards and better products.

Noise on the Web != where the dollars are going. William Shakespeare had a good line that might work here

"Life is a tale told by an idiot - full of sound and fury signifying nothing"

Or to rephrase a famous saying

"If a Web Service is deployed in the enterprise and nobody blogs about it, does it still get used?"

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