Apps Overtaking Middleware

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About six years ago I was sitting in a conference room overlooking Central Park listening to Oracle President Charles Phillips describe the merging of Oracle's Fusion middleware with a bunch of semiconnected products from Oracle, PeopleSoft and JD Edwards -- and whatever else was used around the enterprise.

The mission he described was to create uber-suites of "hot-pluggable" big-module software for finance, HR and the rest with Siebel analytics, reports, alerts and dashboards for business intelligence and performance monitoring.

Middleware was the talk of the day, and between Fusion and SAP's earlier NetWeaver, we were envisioning suites of heterogeneous software assembling like Transformer robots to tackle the big adversaries of enterprise processing.

Today's apps and analytics are moving more to where the data is than the other way around. Software is still big, including purposeful middleware, but as modular CRM, HR and PLM mature, faster growth is shifting to emerging analytic apps of the type being snapped up by the enterprise vendors, notably IBM, as Andrew Bartels of Forrester Research was telling me last week.

"IBM is a poster child for the classic middleware vendor moving aggressively and heavily into applications because they see that is where the action is," Bartels says. Specifically, that means "analytical solutions" with a tighter focus on marketing, buying, selling and servicing activities.

The large software categories will continue to grow, the analyst told me, but we can expect the big vendors -- IBM, Oracle, SAP -- and latecomers like HP to find their way to the analytic application category by way of acquisitions. Think HP's buying of Autonomy, Oracle/RightNow, SAP/SuccessFactors and about a dozen IBM takeovers.

At the same time, the hardware and services providers including Cisco, Avaya, Motorola, CA will have struggled in 2011 as demand matured around network architecture. "Process oriented apps are the older generation, the newer apps are more collaborative and designed to make more productive and effective use of time and decision-making," Bartels says.

You can add lighter and more specialized apps to that, and while SaaS will grow, more activity there will again be in mobile and collaborative apps, more so than public cloud infrastructure, which has a few years of firming up to do.

As Bartels was saying last week, a key vector is Apple. One of the catalysts for bringing consumer IT to work is the experience people are getting with iPhones and iPads and MacBook Air "which is in many ways superior to other devices but also, cooler," he says.

"Over time the burden falls to Apple to be much more aggressive reaching out to vendors and building and making APIs available, and for vendors to no longer assume the Wintel [Windows/Intel] market will be 95 percent," he says. "Apple is now growing to 15 percent and will be 25 percent, settings up a massive conflict starting this year where Microsoft does everything it can to keep users loyal."

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