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IBM moves further into applications

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Comment Last week IBM announced the acquisition of Webify Solutions, a 120-person privately-held company based in Austin and Mumbai, India. Webify will become part of IBM's Software Group as part of the WebSphere brand, but there is also a strong IBM Global Services element, which WebSphere GM Robert LeBlanc characterised as "unique" in acquisition terms.

Webify provides an infrastructure, the Webify Fabric, for the creation, deployment (subscription and personalisation), and management/monitoring of composite applications. The company also provides pre-built services, business process models, message formats and other assets which form the basis of industry-specific applications that organisations and systems integrators can compose using the Fabric.

Webify currently provides these "accelerators" for the insurance and healthcare markets, with plans already in place to extend into banking and telecommunications - plans which IBM will extend into other target verticals, such as public sector and retail.

On paper, this acquisition makes a lot of sense. The Webify Fabric, coupled with the accelerators, adds a layer of industry-specific capabilities on top of IBM's SOA Foundation, which should allow the IBM Software Group to engage in more business-meaningful discussions with customers and prospects.

From the services side of the IBM house, Webify provides Global Business Services with a toolkit to speed the delivery of solutions in consulting engagements. IBM also sees opportunities, through Global Technology Services (GTS), to offer hosted application solutions based on the Webify Fabric and accelerators.

It's not just on paper though. Eighty per cent of the Webify customer base is deployed on IBM technology and the Fabric has been optimised for WebSphere - so that should speed the integration (a roadmap will be published in the next 30–60 days). Plus, the two companies have been working together for more than three years, wih joint sales and marketing, and two thirds of those customers are the result of introductions by IBM.

In the Q&A session of the analyst briefing, a fellow analyst asked the same question that sprang to my mind five minutes into the presentation: does this represent a move into the application space and thus a potential conflict with ISVs?

Robert LeBlanc did an admirable job of attempting to explain why it doesn't: it's not about pre-built applications rather it's about enabling customers to create applications from a combination of pre-built assets and existing applications; it's process-centric rather than starting from monolithic applications with embedded processes; and it provides a platform which ISVs and SIs can build on to add value.

I agree with him to some extent. However, the notion of pre-built frameworks, process models, semantics and business services has echoes of the San Francisco project. It's also the direction that the dominant players in the application market—SAP with Enterprise Services Architecture and Oracle with Fusion—are taking things, albeit building out from their application monoliths.

Then there are the plans to offer hosted composite applications through GTS, which sounds a lot like software-as-a-service to me (just think Salesforce.com's AppExchange). Plus IBM has Workplace for Business Controls and Reporting and Business Strategy Execution together with some of the assets it acquired with Bowstreet (as an aside IBM needs to explain the relationship between Bowstreet's composite application development cpabilities and those of Webify!) which seem like applications to me. There's also the SOA Business Catalogue and it will be interesting to see when or if Webify's assets will end up in there.

So an acquisition which makes a lot of sense, with tangible evidence to boot. As IBM strives to move up the value chain and deal with the threat of NetWeaver and Fusion Middleware, I know it is going to have to tread carefully: Global Services makes a very nice living from application-based services, especially SAP, and ISVs (as its success with Webify demonstrates) are an important route to market for the Software Group. However, it is really time for IBM to desist with this "we don't do applications" positioning.

For one thing, in today's SOA world - one which IBM has played no small part in creating - the distinction really doesn't make sense. And on the other, moves such as this make that position increasingly untenable.

Copyright © 2006, IT-Analysis.com

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