Who Will Win the Application War?

Opinion: The winner in the application war is not likely to be an application vendor. Instead, it will be the ultimate aggregator.

Im attending a conference this week, and I am watching a well-respected academic present his vision of the agile enterprise. He advocates clever new perspectives that organizations should utilize to better respond to change as it happens. He reasons that no company can predict the future, but what they can do is build a company that is capable of reacting to whatever change comes their way.

The academic predicts that successful companies of the future will disaggregate and decouple activities that were once believed to be core to their business but can now be done by specialized entities that offer better economies of scale. Companies can decouple their customer-facing functions from their back-end infrastructure. In this way the company of the future integrates a value chain and retains the key value touch point, the customer relationship.

This got me thinking again about the fallout from Oracles buying spree. I had raised the point in an earlier article that monolithic software stacks can hurt agility. The academic presenter would, I think, concur. However, it also got me thinking about Larry Ellisons pronouncement that consolidated software stacks will kill best-of-breed players. He certainly seems to be right. What bothers me is how can both Larry and the academic be correct? If disaggregation and decoupling are the future, how does the monolithic software stack fit in?

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read Charles Garrys column "Does the Oracle-Siebel Deal Hurt Overall IT Agility?"

SOA is supposed to be the backbone of the agile infrastructure. A future where we can find and reuse specific application services and they all integrate through the power of a common language (XML) and a common data semantic level (schema). Everyone working with everyone else. It sounds so nice. Of course if that future did in fact exist, how could strategies like Oracle and SAP survive?

SAP of course is promoting its Netweaver foundation platform as the answer to integration. Built on open standards such as HTTP, XML and Web services, Netweaver has a number of components and tools to facilitate application-to-application integration. Of course, its only for application to application if SAP applications happen to be in the mix. This makes complete sense.

Oracle Fusion has also used the phrases "open architecture" and "open standards," which is all great. My question is, Without industry standards—and likely vertical industry standards—that are truly open standards not simply built using open standards, can an organization truly obtain agility?

So maybe the future is not about the application module/function that has the value. Maybe, like our academic was saying, its the integration framework provider that aggregates and owns the most important touch point in the software value network, the user interface that will become the dominant player in the future. Of course, to be such an aggregator, the vendor would have to support each point vendors (e.g., SAP or Oracle) integration framework. An ultimate integration framework.

Who could lead such effort? Could it be done by a single vendor? Certainly it would have to be a vendor that has no vested interest in the application space. The vendor would have to be a trusted partner to both customers and vendors alike. It would help if the vendor also had experience developing environments that encourage collaboration by the entire community of users and vendors.

The more I think about it, only one vendor comes to mind that fits the criteria. Wouldnt it be interesting if the one player that ends up winning the application wars is a vendor that isnt really in the application space? I think its possible. The ultimate aggregator.

Can you spell I-B-M?

Charles Garry is an independent industry analyst based in Simsbury, Conn. He is a former vice president with META Groups Technology Research Services. He can be reached at cegarry@yahoo.com.

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