Middleware has historically been the province of IT. Business executives, when they thought about it at all, defined middleware as internal IT plumbing that connected systems. Not exactly gripping stuff, from the view of business units.
Having said that, businesses are changing faster than ever, and there are a number of factors that will make middleware one of the most strategic assets within an IT infrastructure, with a direct impact on business success. Increasingly, business agility is linked to how quickly people are able to access reliable, comprehensive information and use it to make informed decisions—while making sure that the company is still in compliance with the myriad of regulatory requirements that have sprouted up throughout the business landscape.
This linkage has highlighted the disparate array of software that every company uses and the challenges involved in creating an integrated whole from the various pieces. Throwing it all out and starting over is not an option, because companies are not going to scrap their enormous existing IT investments. But this is what, in large part, is driving the interest in service-oriented architecture (SOA). The idea is to leave the applications alone but build modular business services that extract the necessary information and can be easily integrated and reused, creating a much more adaptable IT infrastructure. And middleware is a key ingredient. It supplies core services, such as development and information management and analytics, to support an SOA strategy. Also, its Web-based nature means that Web 2.0 tools such as wikis, blogs, and RSS feeds should be fairly easy to implement.
But while middleware is becoming more important from a strategic standpoint, its linchpin quality hasn't yet penetrated into the business side of the house. This means that IT leaders are faced with two issues: finding a way to illustrate the business value of middleware and finding solutions that can deliver that value quickly and easily.
The CXOs will grasp the big-picture advantages quickly if you can find a way to convey the business value of middleware's capability to access one united source of accurate data and leverage it to feed other sources. Couch the proposal in terms of saving time and money, whether it be through productivity savings, the ability to redeploy employees, or simply doing business more efficiently.
At a functional level, you need to look more at the trees than the forest. Find the particular areas for each function that will work better with the advent of SOA and middleware, and present the project in terms of the specific benefits those two things will bring.
As far as solutions go, middleware has five important pillars to consider: SOA, performance management, Web 2.0 tools, security/identity management, and grid computing. These areas all share the common need to access reliable data from a multitude of sources. It also makes sense to look for solutions that allow you to implement the pillars in concert rather than as separate strategies—but still in a modular fashion. Rome wasn't built in a day, and CIOs can expect the same as they migrate to this computing framework.
There are some things that you can do to speed the middleware implementation effort. For example, applications that contain preintegrated middleware pieces, or solutions that are all built to the same industry standards, will help you put each piece into place with a minimum of fuss. Built-in integration packs in middleware components can save time and money in development costs; using business intelligence tools that simplify how you get to the data can yield an early return on your investment. Middleware such as Oracle Fusion Middleware makes it easy for companies to fundamentally transform the way they do business.
John Matelski is chairman of the International Oracle Users Group Community (IOUC) and a member of the board of directors of Quest International Users Group. He has been chief security officer and deputy CIO for the City of Orlando, Florida, for the past 10 years.