BIZTALK: 6 mega-trends in IT


Last Friday I attended the BizTalk 2006 R2 launch. It was a great event, and I will cover the main points in a separate post, however the highlight of the day (for me) was the opening keynote by Don Ferguson.

Don Ferguson (who if you didn’t know him you’d think was a tad grumpy – but if you did know him you’d think was understated) shared a few of his thoughts on what the mega-trends of the next 5+ years are going to be. Although he briefly touched on BizTalk, most of the talk was vendor or product agnostic. [For those who don’t know, Don is a Technical Fellow at Microsoft (which puts him pretty much in the inner circle – if one exists)].

The trends he identified were as follows:

Trend 1: Performance of hardware – this is basically the move from single to multi-core processors and the change to parallelism-aware programming. He also touched on the change from disk based to solid state memory being the norm in a few years (‘disk will be the tape of the naughties’). Obvious you say? Yes, I admit this wasn’t ground-breaking, but then, when you are talking about mega-trends, if you were to leave out the obvious ones, someone would no doubt call you on it…

Trend 2: Portable devices – again this might be obvious to some, but the question needs to be asked as to why it is taking so long for portable devices to be our main devices. ‘Everyone‘ might be thinking that the mobile device is becoming mainstream (certainly the advertisers do), but why are they lagging behind in features, power and most importantly connectivity when it comes to our places or work, rest, and play? For example, Don talked about wanting to just take his portable device (eg his PDA/phone/iPod) and simply use it at his hotel – with hotel supplied keyboard, mouse, internet connection (read: network), screen, etc. And to be able to do this everywhere he goes. So we are essentially dealing with an infrastructure hurdle here (as opposed to the specific devices which are pretty much there).

Trend 3: Digital lifestyle – here he talked about the convergence of our machines: our personal machine is also our work machine for example. Our personal and work lives are overlapping and technology will span them with us.

Trend 4: Digitisation of all the processes in everyday life – this was the most important point as I saw it. Don alluded to the disparateness of systems in the health industry for example. A routine procedure at a hospital recorded details on carbon copied notepads; copies of which were then sent to his doctor via fax. How inefficient (and error prone, not to mention lacking in any form of security or auditing) in this?. Why isn’t it recorded electronically and access provided to authorised personnel? Again, the technology is not likely to be the main problem (although it will be a contributor) rather it is the infrastructure and thus relies on the attitudes
of those in charge, and building a good case for the costs.

Trend 5: Software breakthroughs – here he talked about Model Driven Development (MDD) and how we were often taking this approach in our workplaces without even realising. This, the rise of end user programming, and an approach of providing Rules and Policies engines in software that can be managed by the end users, will see software doing stuff outside the wildest imaginations of the original software developers. This struck a chord with me. So many users these days know what they want to do, but just don’t have the skills to program it. But, and here I apologise for taking such a simple example, even beginner computer users can work out how to use the Rules engine in Outlook to perform some form of rudimentary workflow. Don pointed to mashups as a simple example of how end user programming is taking various sources of data and functionality and programming them (simply!) into a new end user experience.

Trend 6: SOA – this is a topic all in itself of course, but essentially impacts all the areas mentioned above. Don talked about the driver of SOA being to solve complexity (at least on the transport medium – eg http), but also on the interface (via XML etc) so that the problems of how to communicate are largely removed, and freeing the solution providers up to focus on the main result to be achieved. With the web becoming ‘the framework’ (or has Don neatly put it ‘the world’s biggest API library’) we are increasingly programming with a Connected Systems mindset. BizTalk is of course a big chunk of Microsoft’s Connected Systems strategy.

I haven’t done justice at all to Don’s talk, but the summary would be he saw the trends of the future to be addressing these areas. Not because they are necessarily big new ideas, but because we will be getting the infrastructure, attitude and costs in line with efficiently providing them.

Don’s entire keynote was videoed and will be made available as a webcast soon – I’m really looking forward to seeing it again.

Aside: You may be interested in the BizTalk service bus (a BizTalk labs project providing their view of an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) ‘product’ that we can test against now).

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By Craig Bailey