Enterprise software is at a threshold. For more than 40 years, software – ostensibly the most malleable element of IT infrastructure – has not lived up to its billing. Complicated to create, difficult to manage and expensive to own, it has often been more of a barrier to innovation and a drain on corporate resources rather than the means of aligning IT services with business goals. Now, though, that era may be coming to close.
In almost all respects, the whole structure of software is changing. The application backlog that has symbolised the intractability of software for so long is beginning to crumble in the face of methods and technologies such as agile and component-based programming, and web services have removed virtually every barrier to the integration of software functionality.
Of all the new software delivery paradigms the service-oriented architecture (SOA) approach, which enables users to re-architect their application landscape in line with changing business strategies, is having the most profound effect. Already early adopters are reaping unprecedented benefits by employing SOA, and organisations that have yet to adopt it are treating its deployment as a key strategic priority.
That perception was very much in evidence at a recent roundtable Information Age reader debate on the current state of software, supported by integration and connectivity company DataDirect Technologies. According to the head of IT at a large government department, “the demand for a more flexible architecture is very much there.”
And that demand is being fuelled by a fundamental requirement: to more closely align IT with business processes. “The need to move to a service approach is being driven from outside the IT department,” another participant in the debate, the head of IT a large commercial property company, highlighted. “Business wants software to be the manifestation of business processes – and to be flexible enough to rapidly reflect changes to those processes.”
Whatever the business process, it is fair to say, there is a software ‘solution’ available today to support it – and, increasingly, very different ways of paying for that. Indeed, the impact that technological advances are having on enterprise software ownership are at least matched by equally disruptive shifts in traditional licensing and procurement models.
Open source software, particularly the different Linux operating system options, has already significantly reduced the cost of development projects. Increasingly, Linux and some open source applications, such as MySQL, are permeating production environments, lowering capital expenditure barriers to some new systems despite doubts about the ability of open source vendors to meet support expectations.
Open source is not the only source of pressure on traditional licensing models. As virtualisation becomes commonplace in the enterprise, organisations are becoming increasingly impatient with software vendors that persist in tying customers to rigid per-user and per-processor licence regimes which no longer reflect the realities of IT systems deployment. Some are even turning their back on established models, and moving to software-as-a-service (SaaS) contracts, offering a pay-as-you-go approach alternative. And, where the SaaS model is not appropriate, smaller vendors keen to break into enterprise accounts are offering open-ended ‘all-you-can-eat’ licences that allow customers to explore new ways of working without having to constantly renegotiate licences.
At the reader debate, the head of IT architecture at a retail chain, described how he had signed a deal with a vendor of enterprise service bus software that allowed his organisation to “use as much as we like”. After three years, his team and the vendor will assess the extent and value of the deployment, and determine a suitable fee.
Meanwhile, in the data centre, the growing sophistication of systems software and the virtualisation of its underlying physical infrastructure is revolutionising the day-to-day deployment, management and maintenance of enterprise systems, creating a new generation of self-aware and self-managing applications.
As all those developments show, the software landscape is changing fast: and organisations are already reaping substantial benefits from those changes.