The Thrilla in Manila: both the name and the events of that steamy October day in 1975 remain seared in the memory of all who watched it. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, two of the greatest boxers in heavyweight history, battled toe-to-toe for 14 rounds, until Frazier's corner surrendered and threw in the towel.
Today the technology industry is in the midst of its own thrilling fight - one that is centered on the much-hyped world of Web Services. And just as with Ali and Frazier, the various combatants are treating each other to verbal jabs and taunts. Anyone who attended JavaOne this past June witnessed this, particularly at some of the morning keynotes. Unfortunately, as companies continue to spar over the issue, we are losing the necessary focus on the business impact of Web Services as each vendor beats its own technology drum.
One thing companies don't seem to be fighting about is the potential of Web Services to transform how technology is used to inspire and create new revenue-generating opportunities for all sorts of businesses. However Orwellian it might sound, the idea of creating, assembling, and deploying personalized services across a global network and within a contextual framework - all based on who you are, where you are, and what you're doing - is an enormously appealing prospect to many.
The potential to eliminate technology and business silos within and across organizational boundaries provides another compelling argument for Web Services, especially when companies realize they won't have to abandon the various investments they've already made.
Companies agree on something else as well: no matter what the technology flavor of the month might be, all businesses want to create tighter synergies throughout their entire value chain that encompass customers, employees, suppliers, and partners.
This is truer today than ever. These synergies have taken on a whole new importance thanks to the explosion in online personalization; a development that now touches individual consumers as well as larger business-to-business operations.
As vendors, we often get so distracted by the technology details that we end up losing sight of this bigger picture. Worse yet, perhaps, this too often makes us adversaries, leading to wasted time and energy as we throw punches at each other about which is the best way to proceed. We have to remind ourselves that organizations create real value when they're able to implement <INSERT TECHNOLOGY CHOICE OF THE MOMENT> and profitably meet their business objectives.
This is even more important today given the current economic environment. Technology vendors must be able to articulate how they enable their customers to generate maximum return on their critical assets, which include their people, their business processes, and their information systems.
During and since JavaOne, I've had the opportunity to speak with a number of companies developing interesting technologies devoted to various aspects of the Web Service paradigm. I don't doubt that some of these ideas will be revolutionary. I'm confident as well that a few of the people involved in these developments will become wealthy, provided, of course, their companies get funded. Still, I could not help but feel overwhelmed by just how many different types of solutions are looking for a business problem to solve - even for someone like myself, who is living and breathing this stuff!
I pity the poor CIO, line-of-business executive, or even developer, who, having just figured out how to really take full advantage of the Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) model, must now wrestle with this dazzling array of new technologies.
In the end, a vendor's credibility is only partly the result of an innovative technology getting shipped to market. After all, who can't name a handful of cool companies that got knocked out before ever delivering a product? No, a vendor's credibility is more a product of their ability to help businesses understand how to generate top - and bottomline - benefits from the technology they've chosen. What's more, this model is true whether the technology trend was yesteryear's client server model (may it rest in peace) or today's promising Web Services.
Sanjay Sarathy is director of product marketing at iPlanet. He holds a BA in
quantitative economics from Stanford University and an MBA from the Haas School of Business at the University of California.