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Kapow and StrikeIron – Affordable SOA

A couple of weeks ago  Kapow Technologies and StrikeIron announced a new partnership to deliver web data services in a pay-as-you-go model. The promises of service oriented architecture are well known and broadly adopted, especially among large enterprise and government IT departments. I was able to sit in on a demo on the offering and thought it worthy of further discussion. An enormous amount of data remains locked behind legacy applications and retrofitting them to support RSS or other web services is often complicated , expensive and difficult to cost justify in these challenging economic times.  Kapow’s solution offers a way to rapidly service enable applications that otherwise might never be accessible to modern tooling.

Mashups and social networking products are way up on the cool scale but it is a daunting thing to put together a compelling business case for some companies. Net new data and content management are essential features for enterprise social networking and collaboration products but going after legacy application assets can be a gold mine of ROI.  At CMSWire Irina Guseva (as always) gives an excellent overview of the basics of the product so I won’t repeat it here. In summary, Kapow’s approach leverages existing web applications and transforms their output into Web 2.0 compliant forms. Conceptually it is reminiscent of the  3270 screen scrapers of the 90’s but far more sophisticated. Kapow has been around for several years and have built an interesting portfolio of uses for their solution.

As a former IT minion this product is interesting. It is always a struggle in corporate IT to cost justify your work. As a result, corporate systems and the careers of those that support them lag behind the technology curve.  Innovation is constrained by budget. What if you could leverage social computing design patterns and principles without dealing with the extraordinary cost of replacing or modifying legacy systems. The concept as I said is not new but with Saas in the mix barriers to entry fall faster.

Pushing SOA as a pay by the drink business model does one very important thing to funding. It moves the cost from a capital cost to an expense. This would ordinarily be a bad thing but the cost is low enough that it easily falls within the operating budget of the various lines of business. The fight for a slice of the capital budget is avoided all together. Better yet, the risk of spending for a complex project only to discover that the adoption rate is so low you never get the payback is all but eliminated. With this model, if and when adoption of the technology reaches a point that justifies bringing it in-house, you actually have usage data to prove it. If it doesn’t then you haven’t had to mortgage the company’s future and your career to try it.

Many of the most opportune uses for web service aggregations of information are short lived. Supporting a marketing campaign from an application standpoint can be very transient. The particular slice or assembly of information may only have value for a few months. With this model it becomes more cost effective to reuse existing systems and data instead of building stand alone one-offs.

As I think about the potential customers for this technology it occurs to me that one community that could especially benefit from this model is public sector.There are thousands of local and regional governmental agencies that  don’t have the money or technical resources to support a SOA infrastructure. Leveraging  the Kapow and StrikeIron solution could provide a cost effective way to bring 2.0 capabilities to their constituencies.

@TonyByrne tweeted the other day “Interesting that you hear so much less chatter about #SOA this year. Is it because it’s dead, or everyone is doing it?” I think that neither is really the case.  SOA isn’t dead. Mature? maybe. Middle-aged? not quite. SOA has simply moved into the category of accepted standard practice so there is less debate. Everyone isn’t doing it because there is still an enormous amount of information locked behind legacy systems and even though the pattern may be more efficient, there is not enough ROI in SOA by itself to justify enabling the underlying apps that own the data you want.

The bottom line then is the Kapow / StrikeIron combination offers for some an affordable entry into the 2.0 world for cash challenged organizations that may be struggling along the path to application modernization.

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