IBM goes back to basics with its SOA strategy

By Dwight Davis, Ovum |  SOA, IBM

IBM’s ability to conduct a grassroots SOA world tour demonstrates its competitive advantages

IBM’s broad set of SOA products, capabilities and customers is both a blessing and a curse for the company. On the positive side, the vendor’s extensive software portfolio combined with its consulting services expertise has garnered it an enviable SOA customer base – more than 7,000 customers worldwide, according to its own count. On the downside, IBM continuously struggles to weave the many threads of its SOA narrative into a cohesive and comprehensible story. Its latest effort in this regard is to push some of the technical underpinnings to the background, while emphasizing the business value SOA has brought, and can bring, to real customers.

As a springboard for this new effort, on 7 October 2008 IBM set out on a ten-day, 100-city tour to discuss SOA’s potential and its benefits in most of its worldwide markets. About one-third of the events are being held in emerging markets in Asia, South America and various EMEA countries. Each event has been crafted with an eye to the issues that are specific to companies in the local region and/or to local industries of note. Generally, each event will include a main-topic keynote delivered by an IBM speaker, a local customer speaker discussing its own SOA successes, a Q&A session, a discussion of business and IT alignment, and a local call to action.

The 100-city tour represents a clever grassroots approach for IBM, which has primarily used large SOA conferences and high-level marketing efforts to preach the SOA gospel up to now. In this case, the company is exploiting its worldwide field presence as well as its extensive knowledge of both geographic and industry-sector requirements to engage customers that may be relatively unschooled in SOA concepts and benefits.

SOA technologies and messaging have outstripped customers’ capacity to absorb them

Indeed, part of the rationale for the localized messaging approach relates to IBM’s recognition that it may have outrun the bulk of the market as it pushed its own SOA strategy and capabilities to ever more sophisticated levels. Even among those 7,000-plus customers that have participated in SOA engagements with IBM, 61% are still at the lowest “Foundational” stage of the SOA maturity model that IBM earlier developed. Only 11% have reached the two most advanced maturity levels (“Transform” and “Adapt Dynamically”).

That’s why a key part of IBM’s current initiative is the reintroduction of the concept of SOA entry points for customers that are just now exploring SOA projects. As part of this reintroduction, IBM is offering “more consumable” products and services to help customers traverse those SOA entry points, which include Connectivity (ESBs), Reuse (service development), Information (data access/integration), People (portal) and Process (modular business processes).

Even as it pushes its SOA entry point messaging back to the fore, IBM is complementing this horizontal, broad-market strategy with an ever-growing collection of industry-specific SOA frameworks, services and solutions. For instance, IBM now has Industry Frameworks to help customers jump-start their SOA projects in nine industries, following the introduction of frameworks for product development integration, chemicals & petroleum and defense & public safety.

IBM has been the most proactive of any vendor in marrying SOA software with complementary professional services and customer education. That’s not surprising, given that no other vendor can match IBM in having both a broad SOA software portfolio and a comprehensive services arm that can tackle everything from SOA planning, design and implementation to business-process analysis, modularization and optimization.

Competitors ranging from Oracle to Microsoft to Hewlett-Packard to Accenture are increasingly well positioned to offer strong alternatives to IBM’s SOA solutions. But, as evidenced by its latest announcements and activities, IBM isn’t planning to relinquish the pacesetter’s role it has held ever since the SOA market began to gel several years ago.

Dwight Davis is a Senior Analyst at Ovum.

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