Albert's Analysis - Can Java Rejuvenate Big blue?

There is continuous, rapid change in the Java community, and its applications are vast. As a universal programming language and platform, Java has become critical to IBM as a way to tie together multiple systems and enable its customers to engage in e-business.

Java touches so many areas both within IBM, and industrywide, and Big Blue has made a large (make that "huge") investment in resources on creating its own Java platform. Is IBM betting on the right horse? Will Java provide the way for IBM to integrate its heterogeneous computing platforms? Will the promise of "write once -- run anywhere" be delivered to eager software vendors who are anxiously waiting for this Holy Grail?

David Gee, IBM's director of marketing for Java, recently described the Java program as "making the elephant dance;" in other words, making a traditionally slow moving company become more strategic and forward thinking. He may be right, because I see IBM once again adhering to that spirit of "co-opetition" I've talked about by using Java across multiple platforms -- including Microsoft platforms -- and across non-IBM products. "We had to overcome a large case of NIH [Not Invented Here]. We're getting away from marketing only proprietary systems," says Gee.

Java does, indeed, create an open platform and an industry standard, so a customer is no longer tied to one proprietary system. This means more choice for the user. Don't forget that Sun Microsystems remains the owner and creator of Java, and that Microsoft is widely credited for its rapid adoption of both the Internet and Java. Now it's time for IBM to step up to the plate. IBM can -- and should -- provide single vendor solutions, at a time when companies need simple ways to make the shift to enterprise computing.

The Java programming field is getting increasingly crowded, with competitors like Oracle, Digital Equipment and Novell ramping up their efforts. On the manufacturing side, too, companies like Motorola and Sony have already licensed Java as the best choice for their newest wired devices. IBM's Micro Electronics Division has also licensed picoJava. So more than ever, IBM must provide total solutions for distributed computing, not just isolated parts. IBM is already delivering Java-enabled solutions across all of its strategic plaforms for end-to-end Java-based network computing with over 1,000 Java customer engagements to date, worldwide.

Such newcomers force IBM to compete along price and performance lines and to differentiate itself through its service, applications and worldwide solutions. IBM has expertise in these areas. This competition is also creating the urgency for faster development and innovation. Now it's time to leverage it.

I'm glad to see more aggressive marketing tactics coming into play. Marketers are spending more time with customers, and offering free support for the emerging Java community. They're telling developers what they want and need earlier, which reduces overall cycle time. IBM knows what's hot, and what's not.

All this results in a more cross-divisional IBM, and that's good news. For the last year and a half, IBM has been working on server side applications, and is currently focusing efforts on Enterprise JavaBeans, which connects Java clients to existing server data, transactions and applications. In other words, programmers can extend server-based applications to the Internet, rather than rewriting applications from scratch. Gee says Enterprise JavaBeans should "level the playing field in the server space." I agree.

It's also good news that Java can be adapted to customers' existing legacy systems, without taking apart what already exists. That saves money for the customers, and offers greater choice across OS/2, RS/6000, AS/400 and S/390 platforms.

More developers are embracing Java and more programers are writing in it. That makes it an integral part of IBM's future. Fortunately, Java integration also has the backing of CEO Lou Gerstner and IBM's executive management team. So can IBM be a driving force behind enterprise adoption of this new technology? I, along with many of you, hope so and we all will be "watching this space" to see if IBM and the industry can pull this one off.

--Sam Albert is president of Sam Albert Associates (Scarsdale, N.Y.), a consulting firm that specializes in developing strategic corporate relationships.