Wednesday, January 26, 2005


I have just come across an interesting talk by Shai Agassi of SAP, entitled Achieving Enterprise Agility.

Slides (pdf) from Accelerating Change 2004. Voicetrack (various formats, 18mB audio, 38 minutes) courtesy of IT Conversations.

The first 10 minutes or so provides some business background, including airline examples. Then he starts talking about composition, which I think is the most significant part of his talk. He has a vision of what he calls dotBiz (roughly equivalent to the Service-Based Business), for which he makes massive estimates of market size from around 2008 onwards. (After about 25 minutes he starts to rush through the rest of his material. It's probably not worth listening beyond this point.)

From the slides, you might get the impression of a ho-hum nothing-special software product architecture. But his talk implies something much more radical: a stratification of business.

At the top of the stack are niche companies with small solution-oriented microprocesses. This are assembled from "composites" - he refers to a "conveyor belt" of partly-assembled (orchestrated?) subprocesses. Below this are tens of thousands of business objects exposed as web services. These then sit on top of a layered enterprise platform, presumably supporting supply-side composition.

Agassi then characterizes the historical position of the big four, roughly as follows:

  • IBM outsourcing non-core process - "on-demand" understood primarily in terms of variable volume of standardized process
  • Microsoft preferred for local non-scaleable solutions, but not taken seriously for enterprise solutions - "start here but don't know whether it can scale"
  • Oracle specializing in supporting big one-off differentiated process - "stuff you want to build on your own"
  • SAP specializing in non-differentiated non-core process - "best practices that always run"

In other words, each represents a different mix of differentiation, integration and scale. Agassi's characterization provides a possible explanation of the current strategy of the big four: all trying to converge onto the same central ground, using SOA to get the best of all three worlds: differentiation, integration and scale. However, in this presentation, he doesn't get to the most interesting question: how business stratification helps this agenda.

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