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IBM Rides Harley-Davidson, Pep Boys Auto Into SOA Zone

Upgrades of WebSphere Business Monitor and Portal will offer Ajax to aid with SOA deployments.

Charles Babcock

April 3, 2006

3 Min Read

IBM will upgrade WebSphere Business Monitor and WebSphere Portal, adding Ajax to portal interactions with users to facilitate building a services-oriented architecture in the enterprise.

While much of the technology industry is mired in single-digit growth, SOA "is an area of double-digit growth...a significant opportunity for IBM," said IBM's Senior VP for Software Steve Mills in a teleconference. IBM found that companies' attempts to revise their software infrastructures had "reached an inflection point" where there's a consensus on an SOA approach, Mills added.

In hopes of capitalizing on the mood for change, IBM is introducing 11 new software products and updating 20 others over the next six months to better enable services-oriented architecture implementations. It's also touting its IBM Global Services unit as having amassed over 1,000 customer engagements with SOA experience.

Much of what Mills and other IBM spokespeople had to say has been said before, as IBM has promoted an SOA approach over the last two years. But it reflects a growing conviction that SOA is gaining momentum in enterprise software, and IBM's established middleware, such as WebSphere MQ and WebSphere Application Server, can help it along.

In its 6.0 version, due sometime in the next six months, WebSphere Portal will gain the ability to add Ajax-based user interactions on portal applications. Ajax is becoming a standard for making Web applications more responsive to individual users, allowing exchanges between Internet servers and the user's client computer without lengthy downloads.

IBM will supply "a front-end toolkit for Ajax for the next generation of capabilities around allowing Web pages to be a lot more interactive," including customized end-user dashboards, said Robert LeBlanc, general manager of IBM WebSphere software.

As exhibits A and B, IBM trotted out spokespeople for recent implementations of SOA at Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Pep Boys Auto auto parts stores. Bob Berckman, assistant VP for Pep Boys, said his company is in the process of revamping "a dead platform built on SCO Unix and Sybase into Linux servers running DB2 databases."

It has 12 store applications in each of its 593 stores and has completed the first phase of redoing its point-of-sale system. The company is now rewriting an inventory application linked to it. Part of Berckman's story was that SOA allows staged revamping of the infrastructure rather than starting out with a "big bang" and trying to redo all 12 applications at once.

"It's allowed us to incrementally change applications as needed...to implement in pieces," he said. Once an application is reconfigured as a service, as Pep Boys' tax module was at the point of sale, it can be reused with other applications, such as customer service, he noted. The reuse eliminates small inconsistencies that used to appear as each application resorted to its own tax calculation routines rather than sharing a common one, he said.

Jim Haney, Harley-Davidson CIO, said his company is focused on building services around key business processes. To catch the spring marketing season, the processes of checking a potential buyer's credit and approving a loan to purchase a motorcycle are being merged into a continuous and speeded-up business process. What used to be separate processes "are now loosely coupled, so you can change one part of the process without having to touch all the other parts," he said.

Such loose coupling and the ability to change processes with the season means an SOA approach allows IT "to be a lot more responsive to the business in where it wants to go," he said. As an aside, he also noted that his company boasts "more tattoos per customer" than any other motor vehicle manufacturer.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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