In conjunction with other industry leaders, Red Hat conducted a virtual discussion on the future of middleware, Middleware 2020 . I attended as much of this event as I could and enjoyed the sessions and learned some things. I encourage you to register and check out the recordings.
Here I will present a view further out than most of the speakers at that event...looking all the way out to 2020 and take a stab at what the landscape might look like. But before we dive into technology, we need to look at the economic and industrial landscape and challenges likely to be faced by enterprises and their customers. After all, middleware is really much ado about nothing of interest to the general public if not about improving business execution, reducing cost, improving quality, and improving customer satisfaction. Business execution needs to be examined in the face of the challenges of the business environment of the coming decade. So what are the business challenges of the coming decade culminating in 2020?
If I had to sum it up, I'd say greater volatility and uncertainty. Increased opportunity in some segments, reduced opportunity in others. Greater government oversight. Improved intelligent information access and sense and respond capabilities. Reduced personal and physical goods mobility.
The Grand Challenge of the 21st century - Energy supplies and prices: Modern business value chains, indeed our whole society, depends on plentiful, cheap energy, both electricity and liquid fuels. While supplies of the former may seem adequate for the coming decade, the latter will be under pressure. This will have a profound impact on the way we conduct business. Companies will need to reposition themselves for flexible response, including dealing with different modes, routes and delivery timeframes on supply chain transportation. It also will have profound impact on lifestyles, living standards, and goods and services consumption patterns. Localization and regional value networks will make a comeback.
Financial: There is a rising probability that we will have a new world reserve currency as the foundation for trade by 2020. While no one knows what will happen, and large scale change usually does not occur in the financial world in the absence of “black swans”, we can expect a lot of volatility in the coming decade in the valuations of resources, real estate, companies, intellectual property, etc... Almost certainly a couple of black swans or a even a flock of them will show up. Given this, enterprises will need to be able to respond to rapid, more amplified swings in valuations and exchange rates, perhaps even having to deal with one or more major currency and/or terms of agreement transitions with trading partners in their value chain around the world.
Healthcare: The aging populations of the West and Japan, especially, will change the landscape for healthcare delivery, innovation, payment, and regulation. Already in 2010, we've seen the first round of significant change enacted in the United States. There will be more including some very exciting innovation. Companies in the healthcare industry, government and employers themselves will all have to adjust, probably multiple times, the way they deal with this critical segment of the economy and lives of their employees/citizens.
Government: Coming out of the Panics of 2007 and 2008, governments around the world are stepping up efforts to regulate and track more financial activity than ever before. More sophisticated fraud avoidance, detection and response will become more important. This will force enterprises to have greater transparency into their activities, be flexible and responsive to changing political landscapes and regulation, and the create the ability to manage business and government rules in their business and IT in a manner which few are set up to do today in a cost-effective, speedy manner.
More information available on line in a more organized and easily accessible manner – will drive services productivity in a positive manner. Portable devices everywhere. Even as personal mobility and physical access will become more constrained; information, virtual experiences, work delivered through computerized systems and processes will be much more prevalent and easier to do.
So what does this mean for middleware and how it will be deployed in 2020?
Java will still be alive and running a massive amount of enterprise applications and business processes. Heck, we still run a lot of the world on COBOL today! Languages and environments as critical as Java do not just disappear. However, Java may not be the primary language for an increasing number of applications and business processes.
New languages (or a significantly evolved “Java XX” and BPM standards) will be more prevalent in two areas:
Application development where the applications are more integratable into business processes , rich user interfaces, and be more manageable (these characteristics built more into the language itself), and
Business process codification language and modeling tools with business rules and ability to make service calls built-in. Developing governable automated business processes will be critical.
Enterprises will need to have an IT infrastructure that is responsive to rapid change at all levels – hardware/OS, application/data/services, integration, business process and rules, and presentation/user interaction. To deal with a barrage of ongoing business changes, opportunities and threats, the enterprise will be deploying solutions based on this modern middleware into flexible cloud deployments. Some will be hosted on service providers (maybe many) and other, high value differentiating IT applications and processes perhaps remaining on-premise in private clouds where control is greater. At the integration layer and business process layers, we will see most if not all development projects include this thinking – how does this support the business, how will it integrate and be used by all relevant business processes, how will it be governed and change managed, etc... Stove-piped application projects will be a passe way of thinking and will lead to non-competitive business processes. The presentation layer will need to manage the security and credentials of users better than today, will need to present a personalized view into the business for each role to increase personal productivity, will need to offer rich interfaces including voice (yes!) and 3 dimensional virtualized environments (remember, physical travel will become more expensive and difficult by 2020). The Millenial Generation will be in the workforce in large numbers by 2020, becoming a dirving factor for more change, and are used to 3D virtual environments they already have a great deal of experience with in their entertainment today.
Business rules to deal with pricing, allocation, government regulation, partner/value chain rules of engagement, valuations, and fraud detection will be critical to understand and have explicit control over in automated business processes. This will be necessary to deal with the volatility described above.
Holistic views of customers and partners will be available at any point in the business process with advanced SOA techniques (including application and data integration) and event driven architecture (EDA). The sense and respond capabilities of the business leveraging its IT will be enhanced with the greater intelligence delivered by complex event processing (CEP) such that response time and quality will significantly improve from 2010 levels. Indeed with transportation and government costs sharply higher, this ability will be key to survival and prosperity.
More collaboration across value chains on IT projects and deployments to ensure they meet the challenges posed by the environment described above. Open source techniques and processes will be used not only develop software but to develop value chain communities as companies get more comfortable with open source and the “participatory” economy.
Expanded participation in open source projects that help drive the above improvements and changes to middleware. Enterprises and vendors will continue to seek out win-win collaboration efforts to drive lower cost, transparent, standards-based, open middleware to solve these great challenges and take advantage of the opportunities these challenges present for capturing value and delivering solutions to their customers.
While the challenges of the coming decade seem daunting, there also will be opportunities to solve ongoing problems left over from the 20th century in terms of improved business execution, healthcare, information access, and productivity. Middleware 2020, built on mature, robust, open cloud environments, will be the foundation for supporting competitive enterprises and value chains in 2020. I look forward to the journey there!