The Reincarnation of Enterprise Applications

If SOA, modernization, and Web 2.0 are complementary IT efforts, then why are they so often viewed as separate initiatives?

By Jeremy Chone

While there hasn't been a growing demand for developers and architects skilled in PowerBuilder, Delphi, COBOL, and other popular applications and tools from the 80s and 90s, this doesn't necessarily mean that the value of these applications has gone the way of the dinosaur.

Not surprisingly, a recent compensation study by Foote Partners found COBOL, PowerBuilder, and Jini skills among the lowest paying. However, the research shows not that such skills aren't in use today, but that companies aren't willing to pay for them. Most business and IT leaders would agree that the information contained in these applications shouldn't be dismissed since it likely holds years of critical information about the daily operations of the business and would be nearly impossible to recreate.

Why do most architects, developers, and IT managers overlook the importance of the underlying infrastructure and the existing applications when it comes to major initiatives such as service oriented architecture (SOA), enterprise Web 2.0, and application modernization? Moreover, why are these complementary IT efforts viewed as separate initiatives?

Today, the focus for many Web architects is around Web 2.0 interfaces while enterprise developers are engaged in under-the-hood modernization efforts. Still other parts of the IT organization are involved in sweeping service oriented architecture (SOA) strategies. Some organizations may view these as separate IT initiatives, but these teams should work together as part of an organizational transformation.

Individually, each of these complementary efforts has proven to help companies reduce costs and boost productivity. Even more powerful when brought together, these technologies can deliver tremendous value to the organization by enabling them to wring the most from their existing infrastructure and present information in a way that is most meaningful to the end user.

If the individual thought of SOA, enterprise Web 2.0, and application modernization seems daunting, the idea of bringing them together probably seems overwhelming. This is why it's important to call out the fact that none of these technology segments is new -- each is an evolution in the industry primarily based on maximizing your existing IT investments.

While most organizations closely link application modernization and enterprise Web 2.0, they often view an SOA effort as a completely separate activity. However, once you realize the synergy among all three initiatives, it's almost impossible to not consider one without the others.

Let's take a closer look at each one to fully understand how they can help a company save money and increase productivity.

One of the strongest arguments for SOA is the ability to eradicate silos, turn existing applications into Web services, and create libraries of proven services that can be reused throughout the organization as well as by customers and partners. As an organizational strategy, a standards-based SOA can establish the foundation that enables companies to more easily integrate new technologies like those being ushered in by the enterprise Web 2.0 wave.

Enterprise Web 2.0 technologies can help companies of all sizes gain competitive advantage by using the Internet as a platform for information delivery and access.As enterprise Web 2.0 becomes more ubiquitous in an organization, it's important to realize that the modernization process is not a self-contained effort that solely focuses on the application interface, nor should it be about migrating a legacy application to a new infrastructure. Instead, it should be focused on transforming legacy assets to a set of reusable services and user interface components. The way to achieve these goals is through the combination of an SOA and modern user interface framework that is based on open Web technologies.

Three of the most important processes associated with application modernization are assessing the assets, uncovering the liabilities, and evaluating the integrity of the applications.

While assessing the assets, you need to get a handle on your company's application inventory to find out what's being used and what's shelfware. Many companies in this phase are surprised by the hundreds of applications and multiple versions that could be consolidated or eliminated.

As you take a closer look at your current applications during the assessment phase, investigate what else has made its way into the infrastructure. While non-IT staff may be nimble at creating mashups, there is an inherent and costly risk associated with the proliferation of rogue applications in the infrastructure.

When it comes to the integrity check, uncover potentially redundant or bad code before enterprise Web 2.0 technologies are introduced. Otherwise, you'll likely be serving up bad information on a very attractive Web 2.0 platter.

Modernizing applications also helps address the growing IT skills gap with regard to the shrinking pool of talent with expertise in legacy applications. Through the modernization process, a company has the opportunity to unravel the layers of code that have evolved through the years to more specifically define the functions of each application and identify and eliminate costly redundancies.

The use of open standards and open source is critical in bringing together these three IT initiatives. Standards-based approaches, as we know, help create a foundation that will support a company's current and future business needs. Open source technology further breaks down the silos and decreases learning curves by fostering community development that freely shares best practices and lessons learned.

For example, the recent contribution of dojo.E to the Dojo Foundation will significantly reduce the development time and costs of building enterprise Web applications without requiring developers master JavaScript or Ajax or rebuild applications from scratch.

To ensure the success of these individual IT initiatives as well a the collective work of the SOA, modernization and enterprise Web 2.0 teams, each of these efforts requires an incremental approach that starts as a team- or department-wide project before it can be rolled out more broadly and eventually support the entire organization.

Given that efforts such as SOA, enterprise Web 2.0, and application modernization can have such a dramatic effect on the organization from a business perspective, it only makes sense to bring together the teams so that the organization's goals can be met through the use of technology.

Jeremy Chone is chief technology officer at Nexaweb. You can reach the author at