Friday, August 17, 2007

Serena fills cracks between SOA, ALM and SaaS with process-centric mashup-as-a-service platform

ALM vendor Serena Software is taking a walk on the wild services side in September when it announces the beta release of a platform for mashing up business process applications.

Unlike on-demand tools for content- and data-centric mashups, Serena with "Project Vail" has its sights on the visual tools-driven business-centric process and logic functions that IT departments just can't ever get to. We're talking HR, CRM, and supply chain applications -- the nuts and bolts of large enterprise logical functions. Because who said mashups were just for kids?

The notion is that business users have needs for small and often one-off web applications or widgets that support a small or modest process. They could go to their IT departments and ask for it, and they probably will be told "no," or that it will take months, and at staggering cost. IT is putting out fires, not adding small incremental efficiencies to department-level business stuff, right?

But like the long tail for media, there's a long tail for applications functionality, too. The trick is how to allow non-developers to mashup business services and processes, but also make such activities ultimately okay with IT. Can there be a rogue services development and deployment ecology inside enterprises that IT can live with? How can we ignite "innovation without permission" but not burn the house down?

Serena believes they can define and maintain such balances, and offer business process mashups via purely visual tools either on-premises or in the cloud. Serena, when it unveils Project Vail on Sept. 10, expects to produce a compelling and free mashup tool that MS Office power uses can quickly relate to. An Excel developer should actually produce business-centric mashups (no pivot tables required), so they say.

By making the tool free and virally distributed, Serena expects to seed the need for the on-premies servers they will license, or to become in-cloud host to the mashups. Serena will provide an all-online platform-as-a-service approach that they will charge for on a subscription basis, probably on a per-user/per month basis and perhaps also on a mashup by mashup basis. Imagine app dev from your HR department's petty cash account!

Now we're already seeing a lot of data mashups. And we've seen development as a service. But the notion business processes as a service has some interesting implications. And with a configuration management and ALM company -- which knows enterprise IT, as well as development efficiencies and applications/services lifecycles (not to mention how to leverage open source) -- well ... Serena might just be able to pull this off as well as anyone.

They will need to bridge the challenging uncharted waters between users, developers, IT as well as among and between SaaS, SOA, and packaged business applications. No easy task. But new Serena CEO Jeremy Burton has always struck me as a thought leader, never one to let his environment limit his gait.

If Serena can carve out leadership on this, there's a huge opportunity. IT departments -- as long as they are not held responsible for that over which they have little authority -- might actually like the notion of avoiding small custom applications chores. Having more on-demand or SaaS services might also grease the skids toward more use (and reuse) of SOA virtues. Allowing creative flexibility for line-of-business personnel to experiment with new approaches without involving developers could bear powerful fruit.

For example, if the mashups are solid and productive, well just use them as blueprints and requirements for more "sanctioned" and official application projects. These mashups could actually become incubators and laboratories for the rest of the developers to pick and choose from. Cool.

It will take a progressive CIO to see the value in this. This will have to be done with low risk to the enterprise. But being able to associate IT ALM with on-demand ALM will go a long way to making the Wild West of mashups seem more like the Midwest of IT creativity. Can be done.

Serena is leveraging its TeamTrack products to build out its new mashup tools, platform, and workflows. The way to create mashups for dummies (sorry) is to exploit workflow and process tools. Serena is working with OpSource for the hosting and multi-tenancy infrastructure.

If all of this works, the Serena platform could also evolve into a business mashup exchange, a solutions ecology for marketing services that could play very well with SOAs across small businesses and up to the largest enterprises and governments. There may even be federation between such an exchange and SOA registries and repositories. Shop till you drop.

The notion of business mashups as a service could become a sleeping tiger. Microsoft should like this a lot, even if they are only experimenting with consumery stuff now like Popfly. I actually think this also aligns with IBM's SOA strategy of vertically focused services and reuse. No reason why a QEDWiki mentality could not grow some Enterprise 2.0 wings.

What's more, Google and Amazon may have good reasons to get into the custom business services mashup arena. If there's a will, there's a way. Build, buy, or partner?

Hey, if Facebook can become the virtual home for scads of widgets and applications for the Web 2.0 crowd, who is going to achieve critical mass for such an environment for business services? Could be Serena.

They just have do do better than "Project Vail" for a name. General availability of the platform will come in the future, but expect to see Serena's free tool on a creative business users desktop near you this fall.

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