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Are Users Now Capable of Doing Their Own Front-End SOA Development?

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Joe McKenrick: Are users now capable of doing their own front-end development?  Are enterprise mashups replacing IT-built composite applications as the user gateway to service-oriented systems?

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  • Joe you know better! Only if there is adult supervision.

  • Back in 1999 I was responsible for the development of a product called BPI (Business Process Integration) for a startup company that had a befitting name "Bridges for Islands".

    Our goal was to allow non technical users to bridge gaps between different islands of information.

    We were successful in bridging the technology and to some extent the semantics between different islands, but users still had to understand the underlining business/technical processes, which meant these were not "non technical" users.

    We used it for EAI as well as B2Bi leveraging standards such as RosettaNet, but users always gravitated towards front-end development of web apps.

    Standardization morphed what this product used to be into what people know today as BPM and as Web Services and front-end ajax/json and even cloud technologies evolved the front-end development of enterprise mashups became popular.

    Unfortunately, the same types of issues we encountered dealing with the back-end orchestration happen today with front-end development.

    Bottom line, I believe that for pre-canned, very specific, types of front-end development (much like packaged apps adapters in the EAI and B2Bi days) there will be some success in having "Users" do their own front-end SOA development, but much like back than, for the more interesting and sophisticated front-end solutions we will need more than just "Users".

  • Yes, of course users can build their own front end SOA-based applications. But the better question is, "What are the consequences of them doing so?"

    A key characteristic difference between enterprise and individual applications (e.g., DnD credit product and FaceBook games) is the necessity of doing city planning - AKA Enterprise Planning. As systems get larger (more functionality), more integrated (e.g., using cloud services), and more disparate (e.g., larger value chains), they become more complex. At the enterprise level, for every 1X increase in size, complexity can grow from 2x-10x (as measured through cyclomatic complexity) . It is through this increase in complexity that most problems occur, which result in substantially larger maintenance costs.

    To deal with this, SOA-based enterprise applications need to be managed through effective enterprise build and runtime governance - otherwise known as City Planning. By its nature, this means that they need to engage a larger team to make this happen. Individuality is good, but individually-based enterprise development, even at the mashed up front end, is bad. Enterprise applications need enterprise team development in order to reduce the unintended consequences of complexity.

  • Are there more tools available to the average non-IT user beyond Office? Sure. Are there some tech-savvy non-IT users pushing the envelope? Probably. Is there a general trend? I doubt it. I don't think most data is available in a mashup-friendly location or format. Most IT departments I've seen don't allow direct access to databases by individual users.

    The area with potential is still the same old, "things I do to get my job done but have never been supported by IT." How much work is still done by shared or emailed excel spreadsheets? Are there now web-based tools that store data outside the firewall that may do more? Sure. Is this really a front end to SOA though? No. This is data that individuals have chosen to move out there to be more efficient at their job, and they're probably taking the burden of getting an export from the officially supported internal systems and keeping it up to date. That's certainly not SOA.

    Now, let's hypothetically assume that a company has implemented a data services layer for all master data. Could this enable business users to do more on their own? Sure, but if the company is that advanced with SOA, odds are they have very good governance processes to control onboarding of consumers, and on top of that, they probably work very well with the non-IT staff, and as a result, enabling access for mashups by tech-savvy users probably is par for the course. How many companies actually fall into this category? Well, that's a survey I'd love to see done. Joe?

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    Why is 'enterprise mashups' considered SOA and what does "Front-End SOA" mean?

  • This relates more to the nature of Front-End SOA tools than to the abilities of users. The temptation of “citizenâ€? application development dates back to the prehistory of the PC – the introduction of micro computers and products such as Framework and dBase. I believed at that time, in particular as one of the founders of Magic Software, that this was the path to follow. Reality proved otherwise, showing that such easy to use tools actually amplify lack of IT skills, which sometimes led to very unhappy endings. Nowadays, I believe that citizen development can be effective provided the following combination: easy and intuitive assembly and composition tools with adequately enforced governance, and a professionally developed collection of services (building blocks). A good example of such a mix is Convertigo.com, which evolved from Programmatic Integration to Enterprise Mashup’s and now to SOA backend enablement (targeted at IT professionals via an Eclipse based studio) and Front-End composition (targeted at citizen developers with Convertigo’s own Composer as well as other popular composition tools).

  • To the question asked:

    Are users now capable of doing their own front-end development? Are enterprise mashups replacing IT-built composite applications as the user gateway to service-oriented systems?

    I think the answer is "yes" to --are users capable of doing their own front-end development. And, "no" Are enterprise mashups replacing IT-built composite apps as the user gateway to service-oriented systems.

    Now for more thoughts... For the first "yes"... some users are doing front-end development and not even realizing it using tools that abstract out lower-level programming concepts.

    For the second "no", it's never an either-or. I've seen some early mash-up development. And for mash-ups that access non-mission critical data, it's becoming more common but I'm also seeing a lot of IT composite application development as well, especially for customer-facing, revenue-generating and business critical process and application support. After 25 yrs+ in the industry, I don't think I've ever seen a full scale either-or or replacement of any architectural pattern or design approach.

  • Yes. With the right tools and the right attitude. The attitude part I believe is the most important. Especially those who don't wait to be told what they can or cannot do.

    It is our job as Computer Scientist to take complex things and make them easy to use, or at least some of us have this mindset, while others I am afraid are a bit more protective of their turf.

    I am seeing an influx of, for lack of a better title, "Business Architects" for example, who understand the business and are technically savvy enough to actually "code" without even knowing they are doing it.

    With the right underlining SOA Infrastructure in place that handles all the necessary plumbing the next step is to actually generate the UI with minimal user input.

    Ah, you might ask, does the developer go away? No, they become more business savvy and in turn "code" without knowing it as well. We all become "users".

    Remember its the "content" that matters most, not the container. Unless, of course no one really reads the content :)

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