Middleware: The Next Great Frontier

When it comes to thinking about what may be the most important class of technology for the next 10 years, none other than middleware (and the advances being made in it) immediately comes to mind.

Now say what you will about Web-based supply-chain systems and marketplace or customer relationship management (CRM) packages, but advanced business strategies utilizing the Internet could not be executed without the presence of middleware.

For most marketing professionals, middleware may seem like the stuff of IT experts’ dreams. But it’s becoming increasingly important for marketing managers to understand the nature of this technology in order to conceive, design, and ultimately deploy competitive strategies.

Worth Your While

For instance, middleware is enabling The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas to improve its registration process. In a pilot program, the company is equipping its check-in agents with mobile devices directly connected to the central registration system. The goal is to enable roving agents to greet guests at the door and walk them through the registration process without their having to wait in line.

If any of you have been through the nightmare of waiting for a cab during COMDEX, you can understand how eliminating one line in Vegas can translate into a huge competitive differentiator. And along with providing obvious customer-service benefits, this wireless capability — enabled by middleware technology — could translate into customers spending additional time at the casino, the primary revenue center for The Venetian.

Classes of Middleware

So here is a breakdown of the different classes of middleware technology, including short descriptions of their relevance:

  • Integration brokers. These can be thought of as the brains of the corporate nervous system. With an integration broker, companies can manage many-to-many system interactions more efficiently. Just as routers improve the flow of raw data through a system, integration hubs improve the flow of transactions between disparate business applications.

  • Business process managers. If integration brokers are the brains of the corporate nervous system, then business process managers are the memory. This type of middleware technology enables companies to map, store, and retrieve business flows that are central to the enterprise.
  • Communication middleware. This type of technology could be thought of as the connecting fiber between heterogeneous systems. Communication middleware maintains loosely coupled point-to-point interactions and data flow.
  • Adapter technology. Adapters can be thought of as specialized integration channels for specific application packages. For example, SAP, Siebel, or other enterprise packages can be linked together via product-specific adapters.
  • Web-integration servers. These can be thought of as a specialized type of middleware that enables disparate systems to communicate via Internet-based protocols. Primarily used for company-to-company interactions, these servers must use adapter, communication, or business process management middleware to bridge information flow.

The Next Wave

If you are looking for the next big system innovation to reshape the business landscape, search inward. There you will discover the value of middleware. This technology enables companies to leverage system investments and extend the lifecycle of all business applications.

My guess is that companies seeking to lower the overall cost of IT ownership while attempting to innovate new services will invest heavily in middleware technology.

If you have any examples of how your company is leveraging middleware, please send them in.

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