Interview: Chuang on app development, integration

At its annual eWorld conference, BEA Systems detailed its plans to marry application development and integration in Version 8.1 of its WebLogic Platform, which includes its application, portal and integration server technology. BEA's CEO, Alfred Chuang, spoke with Computerworld, about the company's direction.

Q: How much a part of your integration strategy is Web services?

It's a pretty small piece right now, because it's really only used for a little bit more internal communication. It's a technology that we have decided to use for building specific adapters that go into packaged applications. But other than that, if you look at process management, which is the biggest part of the [WebLogic] Integration technology, if you look at the rules engine, if you look at many of the critical conversion technologies in [WebLogic] Integration, those have nothing to do with Web services at all. So Web services are really used from an external or deep internal perspective only.

Q: Do you think Web services will increase in importance?

It will continue to increase because ultimately if that becomes a successful standard for everyone to [adhere] to for standardizing on how applications work together, it will slowly influence more and more of the internal applications, plus the adapters. Let's say this is PeopleSoft, Siebel or SAP adapting into talking to other types of systems. By the time they get to providing native Web services interfaces, then things will need one or two less levels of translation. It will only make things cleaner and better.

Q: You have noted that application developers and integration specialists tend to fall into separate camps in IT organizations. You're trying to encourage convergence, but it seems to require a change in IT philosophy. How do you go about trying to promote that change?

I think knowledge and proliferation are the two key things. ... People don't really have a developers' community. This is a pretty foreign concept. It's a very common concept for people that are doing Web pages, people who are doing graphics design. ... In the enterprise, practically nothing is shared. So I think that is critical.

The other thing is it's ultimately how you educate. Historically, we plan very large projects of two years, three years, a five-year project, very much [on the] waterfall-based [concept]. You disseminate a task and hopefully [in] due time, you try to integrate the pieces and that's how thick apps historically are built.

Nobody builds applications that way anymore. People now build small pieces. They integrate on the fly. And a lot of them are deployed very loosely coupled. But aggregately, when you manage them, it looks like one big application.

Q: Have new customers shown more interest for your integration technology, or has more interest stemmed from existing customers of your WebLogic application server?

It's interesting because we used to think of ourselves as a company that you want to come to to build new applications only. That's starting to change. Instead, we're hearing that customers are looking for integration solutions that have development capability. So you now have the two separate camps pulling you.

One is our historical customer, which already has development. They said, "Well, we need integration capability to build with the development platform." The other type of customers are ones that have never used a development platform before, but they were looking for an integration solution. They said, "Well, I cannot just stop there. I'm going to look for a company that also will be able to allow me to extend out from the integration solution."

Q: One BEA executive said there are 400 customers for WebLogic Integration. Of those, how many bought just the integration product?

More than half of those came in and wanted to buy just the integration solution. And there's a large percentage of those who are brand new customers of BEA, which is why we were investing money in integration, and the reason why we're accelerating. Clearly, the market is heading to a different direction much faster than we expected. So these two spaces as far as the customer is concerned are colliding, and I think it has a lot to do with a different element.

One is the fundamental economic scenario where there's a lot of consolidation going on. A lot of our customers are trimming the number of vendors they're doing business with. So in the trimming process, they're looking at what aggregately makes sense within the same camp. ... There's a lot of centralization going back into IT organizations compared to three or four years ago.

Q: When new customers buy the integration product, are they also using BEA for new application development?

Right now, it's too early to tell. This product is two and a half quarters old. We're seeing people that are buying it purely for integration purposes. We're seeing some customers coming in from integration and then also doing some development. We're also seeing some customers doing development, adding integration and then doing both.

But I would say we see, more so than ever, that our customers are buying integration solutions but want to have a guaranteed future that this will lead [them] to convergence, which is typical in the thinking of our customers.

Q: What types of companies are using your integration products?

We see telephone companies. They are integrating a lot of back-office, front-office kinds of operations, provisioning, customer care and also record keeping. We call them super big integration projects, because typically the volume and process they come through are massive and need to be highly scalable. ...

Financial services is another area where we used to have a very significant and clear line between front office and back office. As the IT budget is coming down, the line blurs, especially with midoffice and back-office operations almost becoming one and the same thing. We're seeing a lot of Internet banking applications. ... Then you have a tremendous amount of back-office to front-office development.

A pharmaceutical company, from FDA approval directly into the back-office operation, we see those. Energy sector. Government is one of the very fast growing areas for BEA.

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