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It is undeniably hard for technology vendors like BEA to step outside of their comfort zone of talking technological terms, especially when they are dealing with the still-alien concept of enabling `business services’ rather than simply selling products. This is brought into relief even more sharply when it acquires businesses that extend the ability to provide those services.

This issue came to the fore at the recent UK version of the company’s BEAWorld conference and exhibition, held at London’s Royal Lancaster Hotel. Against a background of a valedictory keynote presentation from CEO Alfred Chuang, and VP of Solutions and Product Marketing Bill Roth, where the technology of providing service orientation seemed definitely more important than the services themselves, and where BT’s head of Platform Design and Build, Jim Crookes, gently castigated them for such a view, BEA also announced the acquisition of ConnecTerra, a company specialising in RFID middleware.

This acquisition can be seen in number of ways, not least being another major US software vendor snapping up some useful technology to expand its empire. For systems architects and applications developers, however, there is another way to look at it: a way that maps onto Jim Crookes’ view that service orientation has little to do with software and is all about business.

Service orientation is now about building re-useable, re-deployable business function services where the technology used to construct them has no specific value to the user outside of that function. What it does is now the important criterion, and the question of how it does it is irrelevant to all but the few. For applications developers and architects in the user community this means that their playground will increasingly shift to integrating these services – as business functions – rather than working directly with code.

The ConnectTerra acquisition is a case in point. RFID is likely to be a major business tool over the coming years, particularly in the logistics and retail markets. The need to integrate those services with both new and legacy business applications, in order to build new business services, is fundamental to this trend. As many of those applications will be managed by services provided by the likes of BEA’s WebLogic, integrating the two has a certain sense. Indeed, prior to the acquisition, the ConnecTerra middleware and WebLogic had already been used together for some 18 months.

According to the company’s worldwide EMEA Technology Evangelist, Martin Percival, the acquisition was stimulated by users. “We get asked by users to integrate technology like ConnecTerra into the WebLogic stack,” he said. “It becomes one less thing they have to think about in building business processes.”

This is a user view of the world that leads back to what BT’s Jim Crookes told the BEAWorld conference, and for which he got the largest cheer of the day. “If SOA is seen as just being about software, it will fail. It is not about technology, the target now is to have systems that are enablers of business agility, not barriers to it.”

As such enablers, the focus shifts to what the technology does, rather than how it does it. Ideally, like the technology underpinning a ball-point pen, it should eventually become irrelevant, even to end-user business service architects and developers. ®

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