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The Same Big Things

Posted by johnreynolds on March 10, 2005 at 6:35 AM PST

The techno-clairvoyants have been strangely quiet of late... so I am left on my own to predict what "The Next Big Thing" is going to be. In the absence of prophetic visions, I think we'll have to refocus on the needs our old faithful source of income: Business.

The prevalence of computers in our society really took root with the introduction of three programming languages in the late 1950's (by a strange coincidence, I was also introduced in the late 1950's):

  • 1957: FORTRAN (FORmula TRANslation)
  • 1958: ALGOL (ALGOrithmic Language)
  • 1959: COBOL (COmmon Business Oriented Language)

FORTRAN and COBOL were developed for end-users, people who needed to use computers to accomplish a task (FORTRAN for Scientists and Engineers, COBOL for Business people). ALGOL was developed for programmers, people who needed to build the operating systems and networks that executed FORTRAN and COBOL programs.

Computing has come a long way since the 1950s, but the constituencies acknowledged by those "2nd Generation" languages are still important to remember: The needs of people who use computers to accomplish a task are different then the needs of people who build the infrastructure.

The 3rd generation languages like Java are far richer then their predecessors, leading many of us to believe that we don't need distinct languages for users and builders any more. I suspect that belief may have caused confusion for the "builders" and unintended complexity for the "users".

SOA is a good case in point. I've heard "builders" say that SOA stands for "Same Old Architecture", meaning that there's nothing new here; SOA is just a new buzzword for marketing types.
From the "builders" perspective, this is partially kind-of sort-of true, but from the "users" perspective nothing could be further from the truth.

SOA is a architectural style that is tailored for executing Business Processes. I'm sure that the "Service" focus of the acronym is due the the suitability of Web Services as building blocks, but the whole point is to make it easier to automate Inter and Intra Enterprise Business Processes (BPOA would be a much more descriptive acronym).

"Users" (in this case corporate developers) need much different tools for taking advantage of SOA then the "Builders" who are developing the infrastructure for SOA. SOA "users" need tools geared towards defining and debugging Business Processes... and this entails much more then simply defining and processing Business Forms.

Have you ever wondered why COBOL is still powering the most important applications in many Fortune 500 companies? It's because COBOL is a fantastic tool for defining and implementing business logic in a mainframe environment. Corporate Developers need an equivalent tool for defining and implementing business processes in the Internet environment.

A Business Process definition (according to the WfMC) "consists of a network of activities and their relationships, criteria to indicate the start and termination of the process, and information about the individual activities, such as participants, associated IT applications and data, etc.

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