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Learning From a Late Adopter

There are about three weeks in the summer when the heat and humidity in New England become stifling, making it impossible to breathe or to concentrate on doing any useful work. This happens to be one of those weeks. Lacking central air conditioning, by default I opt to do little or nothing.

Except that a couple of days ago I was traveling in the upper Midwest, visiting a customer to provide an insight into future product plans for our application platform. This customer, a large and privately-held retailer, prided itself on its cost-consciousness (some might even say they were frugal), and its lack of desire to be on the cutting edge of technology. In the Gartner taxonomy, it clearly rated as a Type C organization – a late adopter, one that moved after the technology had already been proven and adopted by most others. If you view technology adoption as the standard Gaussian curve, a Type C organization would be on the right side of the curve, well past its apex.

Despite my own love of technology for the purpose of building innovative applications that change the competitive landscape, the strategy behind the Type C approach to technology can also be sound. If costs are already under control, by virtue of the corporate culture, and competitive pressures aren't great, then advanced technology might simply be redundant. It doesn't create efficiencies, but reinforces them, and at a high cost.

And, to be honest if unfair, this particular part of the country isn't exactly known for either technical sophistication or a plethora of available skills in the field. So imagine my surprise when the IT managers listened intently to my pitch on SOA. It was even more apparent later in the day, as they expressed frustrations with the ESB they were using to integrate real time data between applications. When a customer places an order at a kiosk, one explained. They can see our order number to our supplier, and have a tracking number that can be followed on the Web.

Did I inadvertently fall asleep and wake up fifty years in the future? No, but this incident taught me a lesson on the speed of adoption of the technologies that we toss about in the media. After years of pitching the next big thing, it's easy to become cynical about whether or not anyone actually uses it.

Today even a classic Type C organization sings the praises of ESB and real-time application integration, and struggles mightily to use the technology, not to gain a competitive advantage, but because it has come to be a business imperative. While the technologies of SOA and the standards they are based on may not be fully mature, the results that they can deliver are needed now. Even late adopters can see that. It was then that I realized that SOA was real, at least as an application integration pattern.

As for the heat, at least we in New England have the four seasons I learned about as a child, rather than the one-and-a-half experienced by my FTP colleagues.

Posted by Peter Varhol on 06/26/2005

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