Anyone remember the San Francisco Project ? It was an IBM initiative in the mid to late 1990s to turn some basic business application functionality-general ledger, say-into shared intellectual property that a range of ISVs could use to build applications.
The San Francisco Project (SFP) basically failed, with much of the technology being folded into other efforts, notably Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) in 1998.
But would SFP fail today, given what IBM now knows?
The context today is far more appropriate than it was, in a formal Gladwell Tipping Point sense. What’s different?
- Has proved its worth as a coordination and collaboration mechanism
The Rise of Open Source
Eclipse: showed that IBM can succeed with an open source project and create an open ecosystem in the process
Linux: you may have heard of it
Gluecode – making money on the service, not the code
IF IBM doesn’t do it, Microsoft will
- Microsoft has aggressive “shared source” plans for the mid-market, in the shape of MBS Solomon.
Better hardware and Java performance.
- One of the major sticking points with San Francisco was system performance. The level of abstraction of the components meant they were not sufficiently performant for use in business applications.
IBM would not have to break its commitment to ISV partners that it won’t sell applications in order to proceed with a strategy to breathe new life into the SFP, but could begin to make arguments and investments against Oracle, SAP and Microsoft, which all sell both applicaitons and infrastructure. IBM could make the argument to partners it was offering them a go-to-market advantage, similar to the Eclipse effect. Increasingly, the money in this business is is going to be packaging and maintaining software, rather than building it.
Industry consolidation in the business application space by Oracle and SAP leaves IBM somewhat exposed though. Bib Blue is badly in need of control, or at least competitor commoditisation points.
IBM probably still has the source code, and knows exactly what ISVs contributed the first time around.
One of the leading lights in SFP – Danny Sabbah, who now runs Rational, is fond of saying “There is nothing new in IT”.
He is right of course. Most of the basics of computer science are done already–Goldfarb was thinking of markup in 1966! The question is how and when we apply these core concepts. Thus, OTI becomes Eclipse, and so on.
What matters most is context, and it seems to me that the context today for standardised, community-built, business logic is very different. So why don’t Danny and Buell sit down and think about that Golden Gate, bridging application logic and infrastructure, and how IBM can work more effectively there.