Talking Rational with Scott Hebner at IBM's IMPACT 2009 Conference

Scott Hebner, Marketing and Strategy Vice President for IBM's Rational Software talks about Rational's transformation during the last six years and its role in SOA and Cloud Computing.
Scott Hebner, Marketing and Strategy Vice President for IBM's Rational Software talks about Rational's transformation during the last six years and its role in SOA and Cloud Computing.While at IBM's IMPACT 2009 conference in Las Vegas earlier this month, I had a chance to ask Scott a couple of questions regarding Rational Software.

CS: What are some of the things you'd like our readers to know about Rational when it comes to the Smarter Planet initiative, SOA - business and IT alignment in particular, and cloud computing?

SH: Rational is a business within IBM that has gone under a tremendous transformation in the last 6 years. The initial intention of the acquisition was to strengthen IBM's capabilities in application development - very simply put, a set of development tools that will enable individuals and teams to be more productive in developing applications. What has happened over the last 6 years is a slow but sure evolution of that focus to the broader notion of helping customers get more value out of the investments they are making in software. Most customers today are making a tremendous investment in software, which we now consider to be "assets". Traditionally, people associate software with more of an automation tool, not necessarily a business asset that is managed strategically from the top of the business. That is changing now because software is becoming more of a business differentiator in any business model. Take manufacturing and all the manufactured products that we use every day; almost all manufacturers are becoming software companies - software is in everything from a cellular phone, to a coffee maker, to a car on the road. Of course, not all these companies develop their own software. They may be creating composite applications via services, or modernizing exiting software like RPG and COBOL applications, or leveraging open source to a greater degree than they ever had before. We have evolved our Rational business unit to be much more about helping customers drive value out of all these investments they are making in software. Everything from the very top of the chain: "what is your enterprise architecture", "what are your key business processes that run your business", "how do they work to together", "how are they being implemented in what systems and what applications", and doing all the business transformation planning to really leverage your IT assets and investments, right down to low level software development. The way we're helping our customers do this is by implementing a business process for software delivery, which if you think of all the businesses that have strategic initiatives, they all have a business process to ensure "value added" benefits by making it more collaborative, automated under a set of governance rules, and they are able to measure and report on how they are able to get the desired business outcomes and ultimately, improve.

Most IT organizations and most product engineering organizations that are building software don't have a well defined business process. If they have business processes, they are confined to their technology organization. They don't spread out to the business side, operations side, or customer support. What we're doing is providing a whole set of new technologies to help customers deploy that business process for software. While we are still a supplier of software development tools, we have broadened beyond just that. Take for example our newest product, Rational Automation Framework for WebSphere that will allow for automating and configuring the WebSphere application servers and the applications that run on them. If you talk to WebSphere customers or our WebSphere team, the biggest challenges they always had were getting the applications successfully deployed, administered and configured and managing the configuration change, getting all the metadata and all the characteristics of that application correct. There has always been a broken handoff between the development of the application and how it was deployed within the WebSphere environment, so this will create a greater degree of efficiency, lower cost, faster time to market, eliminating a lot of the errors that occur in this manual process in deploying the applications. It will work with the general purpose installation of the WebSphere Application Server as well as the WebSphere Cloudburst appliance. If you're a customer looking to deploy our new appliance, you're going to want the new Rational Automation Framework because it allows you to deploy in a more dynamic and efficient way the applications that will run on the cloud.

CS: When talking about SOA, everyone immediately brings into the discussion SOA Governance. There is no doubt in my mind that governance is key, so what is Rational doing to integrate with what I call SOA "expediting" solutions, like the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) and SOA Registry/Repository?

SH: IBM's WebSphere Service Registry and Repository is a runtime environment where you identify and integrate services. To describe it best I use the restaurant analogy - if I want to eat Chinese food tonight, I look up where the restaurants are, what kind of credit cards are accepted, how the restaurants are rated, etc. We have the Rational Asset Manager which is more of a development or software delivery registry for services. The analogy I use for our product is if you want to start a new Chinese restaurant and you want to leverage best practices, find out what other people have done, how do I create a menu, what are the recipes, and what parts of the city are the best to locate the new restaurant. The Rational Asset Manager is for those responsible for creating and delivering the services and providing a repository for best practices. We are now able to integrate in real-time with the WebSphere Service Registry and Repository so that if a change is made in the development registry, the change management can flow to the runtime repository. This is another example of how Rational has evolved from a pure software development perspective.

If you're exposing any personal information to the web, via a website or through services created by an ESB, you can use Rational AppScan to scan your environment almost continuously, thus ensuring HIPAA and SOX compliance, which a lot of our customers must adhere to. Yet another great example of Rational not being just a development tool.

Traditionally, we've looked at the software within IBM as broken up by the brands - WebSphere, Tivoli, Lotus, Rational. For someone like me who has been with the company for the last 20 years, we are breaking down the barriers and focusing more on solutions, creating "smart work".

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