Sunday, March 18, 2007

Transcript of BriefingsDirect Podcast on Future Trends in Search and Advertising

Edited transcript of BriefingsDirect[TM] podcast with Dana Gardner, recorded Jan. 23, 2007.

Podcast sponsor: ZoomInfo.

Listen to the podcast here.

Listeners of this podcast are invited to learn more about B2B advertising opportunities with ZoomInfo. Just go to to learn how Zoominfo's business search portal provides a rich online B2B advertising opportunity.

Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you’re listening to a sponsored BriefingsDirect Podcast. Today’s discussion focuses on the future of search and search marketing; and how businesses, corporations, companies, marketers, can better avail themselves of the tools that are now available through search.

We'll discuss the incredible power that’s now being leveraged through access to people’s information, company’s information, market collateral and data -- a rich trove of information. Now is the time to figure out the best way to approach it and to leverage it.

Joining us on this call are an analyst and an executive from ZoomInfo. Let me introduce Shar VanBoskirk, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. Welcome to the show, Shar.

Shar VanBoskirk: Hi, Dana. Thanks so much for having me.

Gardner: Also Bryan Burdick, chief operating officer at ZoomInfo. Welcome, Bryan.

Bryan Burdick: Thanks, Dana. Thanks for having me.

Gardner: We want to look at where we are, but, more important, where we’re going with this whole notion of search as applied to marketing and business -- getting things done in a new and innovative way. I suppose that in order to know where you’re going, you have to have a strong sense of where you are. I’ll throw this out to either of you. What is the state of search marketing, and how did we get to this point? I’m principally interested in business drivers and technology drivers. What has gotten us to this point of where people are starting to look at search for business purposes?

VanBoskirk: I can start off. I’ll just weigh in by saying that what has made search so popular today is that it's proven both very effective at getting users to take action, and very effective at giving marketers a way to measure their effect on advertising and consumers. If we look at the history of the interactive medium specifically, around 1999 advertisers were really looking for the next big thing. They had gotten a good result and a good return from display ads, but no one was very clear about what was the sweet spot of the online channel. Overture had a couple of attempts with some paid search ads, and the people who gave it a try realized that they could put some money in and see some immediate returns. That's the kind of cost effectiveness that has lead to the boom that we see today in search marketing.

Gardner: Overture is part of…

VanBoskirk: Now part of Yahoo!

Burdick: I agree with that, and also would add to it that one of the business-model effects of search engine marketing is the ability to very cost effectively try new things. You can try new keywords, see how they work, get immediate response, understand the ROI, do more of what works, and try new things along the way.

Gardner: So, it seems that advertising online and in all the other modalities and channels for advertising often required a gut instinct as to what was going to work and what wasn’t. You could see what went in at one end and you could just look at the results, but figuring out how they came together was sort of guesswork. It seems to me that search, using contextual ads and keywords, removes the guesswork and it gives you clarity and visibility into the thought process that brings people from research to an actual business decision. Does that make sense?

Burdick: It really does, and it also really shortens the time cycle of that whole process. You can try keywords and paid-placement advertisings on Google or Yahoo!, or wherever, today and get results literally in a day, sometimes even in hours, depending on the overall volume.

VanBoskirk: I think search works, because it catches people at the point where they are raising their hand for information and for marketing messages. So, the guesswork of advertising that search doesn’t apply to was always assuming, "Hey, maybe my user is interested in my product or if I catch them at this time, it looks like they might be really responsive." Search took all that guesswork away, because it basically said, "I, as a user, am actively searching for more information about something I’m interested in. If you, Mister Advertiser, can actually give me the information that I want, I’m going to respond to that."

Gardner: When we think of search, we often think about people looking for maybe medical information. "I’ve got a wart on my hand. How do I get rid of it?" or "How do I get rid of the fleas on my dog?" -- consumer research and questions. I think more and more we’re seeing search being used for real business research. People could have $20 million or $30 million budgets and be looking for procurement efficiencies and new avenues for finding products, services, personnel, partners, and ecologies. How does this translate into business? Did the consumer use lead to the business use, and is business catching up? Is that what’s going on?

Burdick: We’re definitely starting to see some of those trends. Consumer advertisers were certainly the first to adopt, and jumped on to the search-engine marketing and advertising bandwagon. In a lot of ways, it goes back to their ability -- as Shar was just saying -- to present a very targeted message, and get an immediate response and ROI, whereas the B2B sales cycle tends to be longer.

As the model is proven out on the consumer side, B2B advertisers are starting to find ways to leverage those same technologies and those same avenues. New avenues are developing. We see new vertical search engines that are really targeting the business consumer or the "prosumer," as the case may be, and delivering even more targeted results to the B2B searcher.

Gardner: I suppose companies think of this in two ways. One being, "I want to use search to improve how I gather information, research, do business, find partners, and find suppliers." But they're also saying "I want all the people who are looking for my goods and services to be able to better find me." What should companies be doing now in order to be better found?

VanBoskirk: The fact is that 71 percent of users are using search engines to find Websites. So, thinking about your question of which came first, the business need or the consumer behavior, I think the answer is that we’re all users of the Web. Whether we’re using it for personal or business reasons, search has become just a natural way for us to begin finding information. What that has led to then is a need to capitalize on that behavior, whether you are a B2C marketer or B2B marketer. There are similar best practices for both.

I always tell marketer clients to think first about their natural search engine optimizations. So, really they should be thinking, "Is the content on my site related to the searches that my users are doing for me, and is it presented in a way that’s easy for Web crawlers to get around?" That’s work that, if you do it once, can pay off for you for years to come.

Then, you can think about some paid search ads that might be really related to the specific, more timely searches or the specific offers and timed programs that you might be running. They should think of all within this notion of, "Who is my user? What are they looking for from me? What is the language that they’re using to conduct that search or to find that information?" You need to understand who those users are, how you can optimize your site to meet their needs, and then look at the paid search ads. It’s the same best practice that works for either a consumer or a B2B marketer.

Gardner: I suppose a consumer doesn't need to have a presence on the Web in order to use it, whereas for a business, their presence, and the amount of content, trackable media, and information that they put out is what’s going to help them get into this mode of being a part of online commerce.

VanBoskirk: That’s an interesting question, because we’re seeing a lot more consumer-generated content appearing in search engines. While it’s true that you have to have some sort of Web presence to appear in search results, what you have to do to create a Web presence is much different today then it was even a year ago. You might actually have information that is about one consumer talking to another consumer about a product, as opposed to that product’s Web page appearing as the most relevant search result in a search results page.

Burdick: That raises the ante for businesses that need to control brand image across the Web, and need to control their digital image. It’s not just about what goes up on their own Website, but, as Shar was saying, it’s about what the blogs are saying. It’s about what the press is saying. It’s about what review sites are saying.

As search engines go to the next generation and do things like semantic search, like we’re doing here at ZoomInfo, we actually are able to aggregate that content across these entities and pull together a complete picture of people and companies. That same technology will start to apply to other entities and other search engines down the road.

Gardner: So, whether I’m a business buyer or a consumer, when I do a search on "buggy whips," I’m not just going to see results from Acme Buggy Whips Co., I’m going to see chats and blogs and all the information about the state of buggy whips.

Burdick: Right, and it will move from buggy whips as a keyword to buggy whips as a concept or entity. A great example that I like to use is, if I search for "enterprise router" on one of the traditional consumer search engines, I’m going to get lots and lots of results. They will include everything from Enterprise Rent-a-Car to the latest episodes of Star Trek, including a lot of results about enterprise routers. They’re looking at those as keywords versus a more semantic search that understands that an enterprise router is a product. "Here are the companies that sell enterprise routers" is the kind of result you get from a semantic engine like ZoomInfo.

Gardner: So, the search can be better for me if it knows that I’m a business user in a business mode.

Burdick: Exactly. Again, "router" is a great example. If I search for "router," as a consumer I might be interested in a woodworking tool, but if I’m doing it for my business perspective, I’m clearly interested in networking connectivity or the like.

VanBoskirk: Bryan is touching on the next phase of search and the next phase of search marketing that a lot of marketers haven’t yet prepared for. If we look at the most sophisticated marketers today, they’re very good at understanding the broad suite of keywords that they need. They’re probably purchasing a lot of keywords, and they’re maybe even doing some smart bid management to figure out how much they should be paying for certain keywords, based on the profitability of the traffic that they’re getting from each of those term.

What’s next is this notion that Bryan’s talking about around creating an increased relevancy in the results. It’s not determined by some sort of magic algorithm that counts how many mentions of a word are on a page or how many links are linked to that page. It has a bit of a learning embedded in it.

It can understand that if this user has searched for these things in the past, we know that this is the type of user they are, or other people have found satisfying results from these types of searches or these types of results. We know that they’re going to be the most relevant for people who are just like them. There’s a lot of evolution that’s happening that we're going to see evolving in 2007 around figuring out how to increase the relevance of search results.

Gardner: I suppose for consumers there is generally some reluctance to put too much personal information out there that might help them in their searches, but might have detrimental effects otherwise. For businesses, that are in business mode, they might be a little bit more willing, and it might be in their best interest to get more information out there about what kind of business they are, what sort of activities they’re involved with, what their direction is. Is that what you’re alluding to, that the companies can start sharing more information, and therefore empower search and marketing through search among and between different businesses?

VanBoskirk: Sure, the most important information is less personally identifiable information and more relevant information about the types of searches you’ve done. It might be just a catalog of the history of your searches. On some of the social search sites you can actually vote or tag pages that have answered a need for you in a past search. So, on, which is a part of Yahoo! you can actually tag pages that you feel are related to a search. Go back to the example of enterprise routers. I do that search. I find a couple of results pages that are really going to meet my needs. I tag them "business routers," but then I do another search that has something to do with my "Star Trek" interest and I tag those pages "Star Trek."

Now, I’ve got them cataloged in my own page, and somebody else who wants to use can view my tags and realize, "Hey, this is someone who likes Star Trek. I’m going to check out the pages she found that were related to her interest in that particular topic." It’s less about actually giving up personal information about you as a searcher and more about just being willing to share the searches that you’ve done, and even voting for pages that you felt like were relevant answers to your question.

Gardner: So, either voluntarily, or as part of the process, we’re creating a layer of metadata on top of the search activities that then makes the next search activities even richer and more powerful.

VanBoskirk: Exactly.

Gardner: One of the things that’s interesting to me about this business approach for the future of search in marketing is that it’s not just for the big subjects. It can be for something extremely specific.

For example, suppose I’m an engineer designing a cell phone, and there is an integrated circuit that I just want for a very specific task on a very tiny circuit board I’m designing. If I want to make sure that it’s a supplier that’s trusted and so forth, I can do a very discrete search on the SKU, on the actual number of the circuit, almost like taking a serial or model number and then finding out who’s got them and where. This could be very discrete in terms of how search can aid commerce. Is that sort of a long-tail effect we should expect?

Burdick: Definitely. In fact, the search engine marketing space has evolved, as both advertisers and searchers have gotten more sophisticated, and that long tail has continued to get longer and longer.

The other thing that it’s driven is the proliferation of more vertical search engines, because it's relatively simple for somebody who’s developed a new search capability to drive into a particular vertical and start to monetize that right away. With the different ad networks that exist out there, even if you haven’t put together an ad sales force on your own, you could put Google AdSense or one of these other networks up on your site very quickly and start to monetize that. This is going to drive more people to have more niche sites available for the targeted search needs.

Gardner: It sounds like this could hypothetically scale down to a single buyer in the world and a single seller actually finding each other.

Burdick: One of the things that Shar and I were actually taking about a couple of weeks ago was: Is there a future where eBay meets Overture, and you actually have classified ads being placed by individuals in a search engine marketing type of a format?

Gardner: Now, let me understand this. If I go out and do a “search,” in a sense I’m also offering an auction saying, "Here is what I’m looking for. Who is ready to bid on it?"

Burdick: Potentially.

Gardner: What do you think of that, Shar?

VanBoskirk: One of the nicest things that search marketing introduces is level playing field for the little guys to compete against the big guys. It provides a way for a small local advertiser to find the customers that are actually engaging in information that they can provide.

Not a lot of other media can do that. You’re limited in how much television you can afford, and there is no way that a small local bank can compete against Citibank. In this case, a small local bank could actually buy more specific keywords for their target audience in their geography than could a large national bank. Why couldn’t an individual seller of apartments available in particular areas, or used equipment, use search as a way to reach out to people who are willing to find their specific product?

Burdick: You’re already starting to see some of that evolution, particularly in the help-wanted space. Companies like Indeed and SimplyHired, and some of the other job-board aggregators, have started to put together pay-per-click models that are driven off the same types of platforms, the same auction-based model as the consumer advertising in the traditional search engines.

Gardner: Let’s take one of the points we made earlier. We have more visibility into what’s actually taking place in this marketing-to-sales activity. Then, we’ve got this long-tail effect, where I don’t need to take an ad out on the super bowl for $2.5 million. I can find my audience for fairly short money. If we combine these two, can’t even very small mom-and-pop shops demonstrate an ROI for an advertising or marketing approach on the Internet, even if we’re only talking about a few hundred dollars? Is it that granular?

VanBoskirk: It could be. We haven’t seen a real solid local effort from any of the big players. Google and Yahoo! have been really working to develop a local presence and local set of marketing services for individual local advertisers. I don’t think it’s quite there, but as we see smaller search engines unfold, they may be more niche focused on a particular type of user or on a particular vertical or industry.

Also, as we start to have mobile search unfold, where I’m traveling through a certain area and I’m searching for information, we’re going to start to see local opportunities play out in a bigger way for some of these mom-and-pop advertisers. They can purchase keywords on national search engines today, but the commerce opportunity may be more difficult for them. If I’m in San Francisco and I see a paid search ad for a regional restaurant in Boston, they may show me the ad, but they’re probably not going to get my business.

Gardner: So, it's a waste of time and waste of money.

VanBoskirk: This year we’re going to see some more opportunities that will actually help realize that local opportunity for the local advertiser better than it has been to date.

Gardner: Another major trend is globalization. While there’s local commerce that might aid and abet certain business, there are other businesses that are happy to be expanding their potential market to anywhere, anybody that can find me. I can put it on a UPS or a FedEx truck and it’s off, out my front door and it’s in your front door two days later. Is this business opportunity and a long tail and globalization somehow related?

Burdick: I think that it is. In the B2B world, where you’re really not trying to reach a local consumer, you’re trying to do business anywhere in the country or the world. As different vertical search engines evolve and create more targeted inventory, those companies are going to be able to better leverage the keywords in those vertical search engines, versus competing for the same keyword in the consumer engines, where they're competing with the consumer advertisers.

Gardner: Because they’re doing this through search and contextual ads, they’ve got more visibility. They can say, "Wow, I just spent a $1,000 on keywords, but I generated $4,000 in new business from customers that I never knew existed."

Burdick: The model will be slightly different in the B2B space than it has been in the consumer space. The consumer space really is about direct marketing, it’s about driving a transaction. I’m Circuit City. I buy the keyword "DVD player." I’m trying to sell a DVD player. In the B2B space, there will be some of that, but it’s largely going to be more lead generation. I’m looking for somebody who is interested in the product category that I’m trying to sell.

I’m trying to bring them in as a lead, send them more information, and not necessarily close a transaction online right then and there. You’re also going to find that the number of searches, done in the B2B space are smaller in terms of total number of transactions, but the transaction value is a lot larger.

So, I think as B2B -- and Shar, you might have some numbers around this -- but as the B2B advertisers move online, the opportunity is actually bigger in the B2B space. A smaller number of transactions, but bigger dollars per transaction.

VanBoskirk: I can chime in too with some stats to support that. We know that 46 percent of B2B marketers use search engines during the awareness phase of their purchase process. If you think of the purchase funnel going "awareness - consideration - preference - purchase," consumers typically use search engines in the consideration phase. I already know what I want and I’m just going out to compare one provider to another. Or, I’m going out to do a little bit more research around price and features.

In the B2B environment, people are engaging with search engines before they have even created their shortlist. They’re actually using search engines to help them decide who they should be conducting additional research with, and then that research could happen online, through a sales call, or through any kind of the regular in-person sales channels that a business marketer might leverage.

Not only is the opportunity for the end transaction greater in a B2B environment, but it exploits the channel more completely. It’s not just relying on, "I’m researching the product, get me while I’m doing that and get me to buy," it’s actually using the medium to brand a company and introduce a new brand into a market. It’s using the medium to provide information and help a user research the product.

It may even be using the medium to qualify users. They’re actually going to be able to determine, "Is this the person making the decision on the product, or is this just the person who is the research assistant doing a little bit of the homework to pass on the info to their boss who’s actually the one buying the product.

Gardner: So, we’re really automating a marketplace regardless of geography, regardless of budget. We’re really matching up buyers and sellers, but with this much more powerful insight into when they show up and what caliber of seller are they. Do you want to put a sales person on this call or not, or do you just want to zap them a brochure URL of some kind? This is really almost an extension of what we’ve know as commerce. Right?

VanBoskirk: The risky thing in taking that perspective is that search engines are still, first of all, a tool for finding information. We can’t completely turn them into a marketplace, because consumers are pretty savvy these days too, and they know that they’re being used as a marketing audience when they’re conducting searches. They’re also aware of declining value in search results. The more ads they see or the more they feel like they’re being promoted to, the less relevant they feel like the results are.

The caution kind of lands on the marketer to understand that this is an extremely valuable medium for reaching very targeted customers, but that they have to actually facilitate the user accomplishing their goals, to get them the information they need. If that’s to provide information or if it’s enable a purchase, both are valid user goals that the marketer sometimes doesn't want to acknowledge. They’re focused on purchase. We have to hang on to this notion that the search engine is still a user tool for finding information. It's not just a marketplace between buyers and sellers.

Burdick: That actually points to a really interesting evolution that we’ve seen particularly in paid-placement ads. When you think back to 1999 or 2000, when Goto, now Overture, was just rolling out, and others started adopting this paid-placement model, there was huge uproar about "How could you put sponsored links above natural organic search results and the relevance of those?"

Overture, Google, and the others were really smart about saying, "We’re going to make sure that these advertisers, these sponsored links, are relevant to the user." Now, you actually find that for certain types of searches people view those ads as the most relevant results -- "That’s exactly what I was looking for." Shar points out that advertisers need to be careful not to go too far the other way on that.

Gardner: So trust is an essential ingredient or people won’t go back for more. It won’t become a marketplace. It will be gamed. It will be jaded. Now, we’ve seen many attempts at gaming these systems already. Is there a necessary "Switzerland" of B2B online commerce that can, in a sense, protect and provide some neutrality to the goal of this commerce, and therefore be trusted by both the buyers and sellers?

VanBoskirk: A part of that is the focus on increasing relevance that we were talking about earlier. Google will maintain that its goal is to organize the Web and to continue to always focus on providing user relevance. It does that now through kind of a formula of figuring out which sites are the most related to keyword searches that are being done. But, there are a lot of other ways to add relevance.

Bryan was talking about what ZoomInfo is doing around creating entities and some intelligence around what is actually meant by the search. There are also a lot of these tagging and voting technologies, understanding who is searching for the same type of information.

Rather than thinking about a board, if you will, that will determine who is trustworthy and who is not, that community of searchers will weed out the folks who are just not generating relevance for them. They will force search engines, like they are with the big guys, Google and Yahoo!, to reevaluate what they’re doing to determine relevance. If the big guys can’t adjust to it, then a lot of smaller search engines are going to come into mainstream use, simply because the results that they provide are going to be a lot more relevant. It will be the user community that determines that, rather than an entity on high that kind of establishes, "These are the good guys -- these are the bad guys."

Burdick: The whole premise of search engine marketing is that the market forces are so efficient to begin with that they will weed out the wheat from the chaff very quickly.

Gardner: Okay, so we’ll have a market force that can help segment search into different niches for B2B relevancy, and we’ll have a self-monitoring effect in that people won’t get burned twice, and they know how to exercise and vote with their attention, with their dollar, with their business. So, what’s the opportunity for a company like ZoomInfo? How do you enter into this with a preferred business search and marketing capability. What’s the secret sauce that you have?

Burdick: Our secret sauce is actually this semantic search model that I was talking about before. In one sense we're similar to regular search engines in that we have crawlers and spiders that go out on the Web and find information. But, then we’ve got a series of about 15,000 different natural-language processing (NLP) algorithms that can understand the content and then create relationships between the entities, even relationships that aren’t explicitly stated anywhere on the Web.

A simple example would be, we know that this person is the CEO of ZoomInfo. We know that ZoomInfo is located in Waltham, Mass. Therefore, we know that this guy works in Waltham, Mass., even though that content was never stated anywhere. That’s a simple example of what we mean by semantic search that allows us to create these connections between entities.

The net result of that is when you come into something like the, which is our preliminary company search product on the Web. You can do a search for "venture capital," find all 2,800 companies in the U.S. that are in the venture capital business, and it automatically creates drill downs into different types of venture capital. Were you interested in life sciences or technology or different branches of venture capital, the search engine and the algorithms completely, automatically drive all of that. There’s no human involvement in creating those links.

Gardner: So, a lot more context around what's going on, taking advantage of what metadata and other inference materials are available. Shar, where do you think this can go? What would be the next steps in the evolution of this B2B, Internet-based and search-based marketing?

VanBoskirk: We’ve talked a lot about the relevance need, and this is poised squarely in that. We’re going to see a lot of change this year, just in the name of helping to refine search engine results. Most users are feeling like it’s almost too much now to search the entire Web. I don’t really need the entire available universe of information. What I need is an answer to my question. It’s almost as if the search engine becomes a bit of a concierge, and the Zoom model is poised very well for that.

We’re also going to see an exploration of other media, and how search can help catalogue information that’s available in other media. Bryan and I were talking about this a couple of weeks ago, as well. The mobile opportunity for search is poised to take off this year.

We see a lot of helpful examples in that space too. I might be doing a mobile search, and I’m looking for Bank of America ATMs, when I’m traveling somewhere, and I get an ad for a Wells Fargo ATM. That's a keyword-based ad that they’ve purchased that’s just like you would place on a online search, but it’s related to the mobile search that I provided.

So the next place for Zoom and for any search engine is to think about what happens beyond the Web. Are there ways that the same sort of search capability can move into other media that also needs the same functionality, the same type of cataloging and information provided back? Why not extend the kinds of information searches that we’re doing on the Web into other media that we’re using just as actively.

Gardner: What would be some other examples of media that a company might be able to bring into this to add even more context, to make them a richer source of information and therefore a contextual relationship through search?

VanBoskirk: A couple of thoughts come immediately. Mobile is here now. We also see RSS content being searched and being used as place-to-place contextual ads.

Gardner: You mean like podcasts?

VanBoskirk: Podcasts, RSS feeds, if you’re getting actual text content delivered to you. I think television is the next logical place for search to go. That one’s not here yet, but as people start to store digital files of video on their cable boxes or on their digital video recorders, we’re going to want to search that information. So, there will be another kind of catalogue that will evolve, where we can search information. Why not allow that to be sponsored and have paid search ads that are adjacent to the video content you’re storing as well.

Gardner: So, more opportunity to bring rich content into this mix that can help provide a richer contextual binding of interest, between perhaps buyers and sellers in a B2B sense or even just discovery, just information.

VanBoskirk: Sure.

Gardner: Very interesting. Well, thanks. We’ve run out of time. We’ve had a very enjoyable and deep discussion about the future and some of the implications for search and marketing and B2B, and how B2C is morphing and providing some tools to business. Joining us on this discussion we’ve had Shar VanBoskirk, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. Thanks for joining, Shar.

VanBoskirk: Thanks very much, Dana.

Gardner: Also Bryan Burdick, he is the chief operating officer at ZoomInfo. Thanks, Bryan.

Burdick: Thanks, Dana. This was great.

Gardner: This is Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions. You have been listening to a sponsored BriefingsDirect Podcast. Thanks for listening.

Listeners of this podcast are invited to learn more about B2B advertising opportunities with ZoomInfo. Just go to to learn how Zoominfo's business search portal provides a rich online B2B advertising opportunity.

Listen to the podcast here.

Podcast sponsor: ZoomInfo.

Transcript of Dana Gardner’s BriefingsDirect podcast on future trends in search and advertising. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2007. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Transcript of Webinar on How Boston's Seaport Hotel Built a Communications and Web Services Portal Using BlueNote Networks' SessionSuite Server

Edited transcript of BlueNote Networks webinar recorded March 1, 2007.

Listen to a podcast of the webinar here. Sponsor: BlueNote Networks, Inc.

Welcome to a special BriefingsDirect presentation, a podcast created from a recent webinar on the benefits of integrating communications, PBXs, Web applications and back-end applications using web services and SOA. Listen to the story of how BlueNote Networks and the Seaport Hotel in Boston uniquely integrated services and voice-over-IP (VOIP) to create a touch-screen-enabled, in-room portal capability. This communications, customer-service, and information-access approach for guests may well define the next generation of hotel-based business services, while also helping hotels to better monetize their many offerings.

And now, let's listen to this example of a mash-up between SOA, IP communications, external web services, and a compelling user interface. ...

Etta McCarthy: Good morning and welcome to BlueNote’s Technical Webinar Series. Today’s webinar is entitled "Embedding Voice Into Portals Using Web Services,” featuring the Seaport Hotel case study. Our presenters today are Sally Bament, vice president of marketing for BlueNote Networks. And joining her is John Burke, vice president of technology for the Seaport Hotel, located here in Boston, Mass. John will share his experiences with us regarding his BlueNote Networks SessionSuite implementation. With that, I will turn the program over to Sally Bament.

Sally Bament: Good morning, everyone. As Etta said, my name is Sally Bament, and I work for BlueNote Networks. I just want to do a quick recap of today’s agenda, and then we’ll move immediately into the specifics of the webinar. For today’s agenda, we’re going to talk a little bit about portals and portal technology in general, and some of the challenges that current solutions present in terms of voice-enabling portals. Then, we’ll talk about and review a specific technology available from BlueNote that combines applications and IP telephony through Web services.

Then, as Etta explained, we’ll talk in depth about a specific customer case study, the Seaport Hotel. John Burke, who spearheaded and led a lot of the innovation that was rolled out at the Seaport Hotel, will go into detail about his challenges and the "Seaportal" application.

We’ll open up to Q&A at the end. You can ask questions throughout the webinar. They will get posted to us, and we’ll address those questions at the end, time permitting. If we don’t get to all the questions, we have everyone’s email address and we’ll be happy to follow-up directly.

With that, let us move on to the webinar. Portals are basically websites. They’re typically personalized, and they provide access to information from a variety of different sources. Portals are often built as distributed applications, with that informational content coming from a number of different applications, and they’re usually built with a captive or target audience in mind. So, there’s a one-to-many relationship between the audience or the registrar or user of the portal, and the information and the sources of content that they’re trying to access.

Many types of portal applications are available today. They could be corporate employee portals, showing employee services in larger organizations, information kiosks in airports or other travel destinations, and what we’re going to talk about later, hotel information portals. Voice-enabling portal technology actually provides a number of business benefits, as well as value to organizations. There’s an ability to increase customer reach and customer touch, and, if transactions are involved as part of the portal technology, the assumption is a higher close rate. Portals also provide new revenue opportunities through sponsorships, advertising, and cross selling, obviously a competitive advantage.

I want to make one other point on this slide, before we move on to the next, in terms of the difference between voice-enabling portals and voice-enabling websites. Voice-enabled websites have traditionally been referred to in terms of click-to-call or click-to-call-back capability. In these kinds of applications, the audience is a large, anonymous audience, involving a "warm transfer" of a call to a call center. So, unlike portal technology, it’s a many-to-one relationship. Often, during that warm transfer, if the user has a voice-enabled PC that can all happen from the PC itself.

Voice-enabled portals, as I mentioned before, usually operate with a target or small captive audience in mind, and typically involve a one-to-many relationship. Often there is a co-located client device of some kind -- whether that’s in an office, a hotel room, or even a dorm room -- that is usually associated with that portal technology. The solution that we’re going to talk about today from BlueNote Networks, although the focus of today’s webinar is on portals, can be used for both voice-enabling websites, as well as a voice-enabling portal technology.

There are solutions today to embed voice or telephony features into applications, and that typically involves traditional private branch exchanges (PBXs) and computer telephony integration (CTI) interfaces like TAPI and JTAPI, but there are a lot of challenges that organizations face in leveraging that technology. It’s very complex, involving a significant amount of programming by software developers, and an intimate knowledge of the different PBX vendors' implementations.

Because of that, the time to respond and the time to build applications are usually very long. Integration costs are high because of the customization effort involved, and the programming model of CTI interfaces is typically very different from a Web services or Web development programming model. Often, you need specialized telephony expertise to embed telephony or voice in any application, including portal technology. Also, the development effort is typically one-off. So, you’re building an application tied into a PBX as a one-off application. For those of you on the call familiar with Web services and Service Oriented Architectures (SOA), it does not have the same concept of reusability in terms of Web service technology.

Also, if the application is part of a larger broadband Internet project, that involves traditional PBXs that need upgrading, there’s cost associated with that, whether that’s upgrading for internal VOIP communication or being able to leverage the Internet or IP trunk providers to get some economies of scale in terms of voice calling. So, a lot of high cost, a lot of time, and also specific knowledge and expertise are required. There are solutions, or there is a solution out there, that allow organizations to essentially combine Web services and IP telephony to very easily and simply communications enable business applications like portal technology.

We’re going to shift now and talk a little bit about BlueNote and the solution that we provide to enable companies to do that. First, a little bit about BlueNote. Our focus is delivering software solutions that allow organizations to deliver voice, video, and any other interactive communication service as a Web service. It's a very different way of delivering voice in an enterprise, compared to the traditional PBX model.

Our target market is forward-thinking, innovative enterprises like the Seaport Hotel, and our products include a family of software solutions that combine IP telephony with Web services and associated software development toolkits, and an optional client technology in the form of SessionSuite Desktop, which is a Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) user agent.

SessionSuite, as I mentioned before, combines applications and telephony through Web services. It’s a software application; it looks like an IT application, just like any other data center application. It runs on standard data center servers, and it leverages the existing IT infrastructure in terms of corporate directory, authentication, and authorization systems -- so it can be provisioned and managed just like any other IT application. It's very different from a traditional PBX, typically an island with its own propriety provisioning and management system.

It provides a very rich set of enterprise-level features and services. It has everything that you know and love from your traditional PBX in terms of calling features, but in addition, offers advance services like meet-me conferencing, voice mail, auto attendant services, and others. All of these features and services are delivered to users who are registered with SessionSuite. So, unlike the traditional phone-centric model of the PBX, where features and services are delivered to a phone, SessionSuite allows users to access their features and services independent of their location, independent of the network they’re connected to, and independent of the physical client device they’re using.

SessionSuite can be deployed in a green-field account, but it is also fully compatible with existing PBXs, VOIP systems, phones, and networks that may be in place today. In fact, the example that we’re going to talk about, the case study at the Seaport, highlights the compatibility and the value add we provided with their existing PBX system and PBX phones. SessionSuite exposes all these rich enterprise communication services through Web service APIs. Standard XML-based SOAP interfaces allow Web developers to embed interactive communication features into applications like portal technology.

First of all, let's take a generic walk-through of how the technology works. In this example, there is an existing PBX in place. There are existing PBX phones connected to that PBX. There is a portal application running on a Web server. And, I’ve thrown in a user who is also connected through a SIP soft phone on a PC. We can use an example of a university. Maybe this is a student portal and the students can get access to that portal from their dorm room, where there is a dorm room phone.

In this case, the student would register on that portal, and if they want to look at their course schedule, they can show that information on the portal. Maybe they want to talk to their professor, and the professor has an office and a PBX phone in that office. The student can click on an icon to initiate that phone call to the professor through the Web server running the portal application. A simple Web service request is made into SessionSuite. This is an application initiating the phone call between the student and the professor. SessionSuite, through its interface directly to the existing TDM PBX, creates the call. It causes the phone to ring in the student dorm room. When the student picks the phone up, it connects the call into the professor’s office PBX phone, and creates the call again through a simple Web service request from the portal application.

In this same example, the student also may want to talk to a guidance counselor. If the guidance counselor happens to be using a SIP-based soft phone, SessionSuite creates the call directly from the student PBX phone. That IP phone connected directly to SessionSuite, and similarly leveraging the enterprise features available with SessionSuite, can also initiate a conference call between multiple parties, in this case, the student, the professor, and the guidance counselor. All of this happens through a simple Web service request from that portal application.

For another extension of this technology, maybe there is an icon for pizza delivery. A student wants to order pizza. This is obviously a partner relationship and involves a call that’s made outside of the campus over the Internet. Similarly, with a simple Web service request from that portal application to a partner service, in this case a local pizza company. All of this is through Web services initiating calling and creating sessions through SessionSuite.

Let's take a quick walk-through the SessionSuite products that enable the previous application. In the application leveraging the portal technology in the Web services, all of that was enabled using a product called SessionSuite SOA Edition from BlueNote Networks. SessionSuite SOA Edition provides a very rich set of communication services. We’ve talked about the telephony services, everything from traditional calling features to advanced services. It is based on SIP, includes a full SIP server, SIP registrar, proxy and redirect server. As I mentioned before, users are authenticated, authorized, and given access privileges, no matter where they’re physically located, whether within a company, over the Internet, the public voice network, or an IP network.

SessionSuite SOA Edition also provides optional encryption technology. We didn’t highlight that on the application example I just showed, but we provide both media as well as signaling encryption. It also includes intelligent media handling to optimize voice quality, particularly if calls are occurring over links like the Internet. SessionSuite provides a number of capabilities such as compression policy based codec selection and echo cancellation to optimize that quality of voice over that Internet link.

We also embed NAT and firewall traversal tools. So, if users are connected across foreign network boundaries, or across a NAT or firewall boundary, we can support the SIP traffic into SessionSuite without the need to have separate session border controllers. We also provide a direct connection to the PSTN or to a traditional PBX through a TDM gateway feature.

SessionSuite also includes a user portal, so that, for example, the professor could set up such specific user preferences such as call blocking, call forwarding, and other features. And there is a management system so that a system administrator can manage all of the different components of SessionSuite SOA Edition. Most importantly, SOA Edition also exposes, through application programming interfaces, a set of Web services that allow developers to embed some of the capabilities that we’ve talked about into business applications.

The next slide talks about those APIs in a little bit more detail. SessionSuite essentially provides three APIs. The Session Lifecycle API was actually used in the previous example. The Session Lifecycle API essentially allows a developer or an application to establish and terminate a call. It also allows you to forward calls, transfer calls, add parties to calls, and drop parties from calls. It also allows data to be correlated with a session or with the call. This is particularly important for call-center type applications that I referenced earlier, such as voice-enabling a website.

There is also a second API, called the Session Management API, that basically provides all the capabilities that you could get today from a management system. It allows you to provision users and services. It allows you to integrate with alarm systems and provide statistics retrieval.

Third, and very unique, there is something we refer to as a Session Plugin Framework. This allows SessionSuite to actually make a Web service request to another application to affect what SessionSuite does with the call that’s in process. So, for example, the professor may have had a calendaring application that has certain rules and policies built in. If a call is received from a student, while the professor is in a lecture hall, maybe there is a rule that forwards the call to a cell phone or to voicemail. This allows call processing behavior to be affected by SessionSuite making a request to another application.

In addition to the APIs, as I mentioned before, SessionSuite allows for the loose coupling of data to accompany a session or a call. In the case of warm transfer from a website, for example, information about an account or the Web page that that user was on can be transferred with the call or with the session. All of this is abstracted from the detailed knowledge of telephony. So, no specific CTI or even SIP experience is required to develop and embed voice and telephony technology into business applications.

This next slide shows a SIP call flow, the sort of knowledge that you would need to embed a SIP-based call into an application. With SessionSuite and our Web service APIs, through a simple command to create session between user A and user B, a Web developer can initiate a phone call as part of an application, and embed that in a business application.

So, in using SessionSuite and leveraging Web services to embed telephony into business applications, obviously it’s a lot quicker. Leveraging Web service technology shortens project cycles and certainly lowers development risks. You can leverage existing IT developers, so you don’t need an intimate and detailed knowledge of either a vendor specific CTI or even SIP. We allow organizations to actually leverage and modernize their existing PBX infrastructure.

In the example I showed, we essentially Internet-enabled and application-enabled that existing PBX. There was no rip-and-replace of either the phones, the PBX, the underlying network, or any of the cabling that would otherwise be required if you were upgrading a PBX to an IP PBX. It provides a foundation for reusable services, because we delivered communications as a Web service. You can reuse it for multiple applications.

In fact, we showed how we could use it for internal communications, as well as for external communications with a partnered service, the pizza delivery company. We’ve shown also how an organization, a university in this example, can actually derive additional business value from their existing telecom infrastructure by voice-enabling their student portal technology.

With that, I’m now going to hand things over to John Burke, who is going to walk you through the Seaportal.

John Burke: Good morning, everyone. My name is John Burke, and I am the vice president of technology at the Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center here in Boston. Today, I’m going to share with you an exciting new innovation that we’re offering our guests. It's called a Seaportal, and is enhancing the experience of our guest staying with us.

First, let me tell you a little bit about the Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center. We are a single property and not part of a chain. The Seaport is one of the Fidelity Capital Companies, now called Devonshire Investments. We are an AAA, Four Diamond property located on the waterfront in Boston. We are considered a group hotel, serving business travelers that come to Boston for trade shows at the Seaport World Trade Center, and Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

We have 426 rooms, 57,000 square feet of banquet space, 120,000 square feet of exhibition hall, and an amphitheater that seats over 400 people. We have a unique set of facilities that differentiate us from our competition, and we focus on an extraordinary personalized experience. We are in the business of making our guests feel special. Not only is the Seaport a great place to stay, but our employees voted us the best place to work in 2006.

The Seaport is a leader in pioneering innovative technology programs. We were the first hotel in Boston to offer our guests complimentary Internet access. We were the first to offer our guests complimentary wireless access, when that became a viable solution. We are a green hotel, and we have implemented a successful conservation and recycling program. We’ve saved over 360,000 gallons of water in a year, which equates to about 142,000 less pounds of laundry.

The Seaportal is the next step of innovation. In the hotel room there are actually three devices with which you can communicate with guests: the telephone, the computer, and the entertainment system and television. We envision all three of these technologies merging in the future. This is not going to happen overnight, and it depends in large part on the comfort level the guests will have with this technology. I can’t envision my parents using this device to watch TV, make phone calls or order room service, but I know my kids will.

The Seaportal is the first generation of this technology convergence, where we merged the phone and the computer into a single device. These are some of the requirements we gathered through focus groups with our guests. We had to limit what we built in the first version, so that we could hit the target date. However, the beauty of Web technology allows us to add functionality very easily in the future.

I wanted to give you a sense of the timeline for this project. It represents a cross-functional team effort from hotel staff, IT, telecom, and without their help and commitment, this would not have been possible. The concept for the Seaportal came out of FCAT or Fidelity Center for Advanced Technology. They were chartered with providing the next innovation technology to position us ahead of our competition. The strategic funding we received for this project was provided in May. FCAT provided a wire-frame prototype, shown here on the right, which is what I affectionately call "where the rubber meets the sky."

We held focus groups with our customers and people who stay with us on a routine basis and presented the FCAT prototype. Out of those meetings, we put together a list of requirements in August, 2006. In September, we developed the website, which is what I call, "where the rubber meets the road," and I’ll show you in detail later in the presentation.

After that, our developers went to work to get to a beta release at the end of November, but it did not include the VOIP-calling capability, which I’ll discuss in more detail on the next slide. We went into system test on Dec. 1 with the VOIP capability. So, the time it took to actually implement VOIP using the BlueNote SessionSuite was less than 30 days. We deployed the first 10 of 100 thin-client devices at the end of December. The feedback that we’ve received from our guests has been outstanding. They love it.

There was one mandatory requirement for the Seaportal, and that was it had to have VOIP. The reason for this is that we were looking for a lower-cost alternative to our legacy PBX. What used to be a profit center, for us is now considered a cost center. This is due to the ubiquitous use of cell phones. A number of hotels claim that they have VOIP technology deployed, and in one sense that’s true. However, in most cases they have installed IP phones and an IP phone switch, and the VOIP calls are going across their internal LAN, not over the Internet. The VOIP capability that we’ve built into the Seaportal routes calls over the Internet using a SIP parent provider.

I want to spend a few minutes and talk about the selection process and how we got to where we are with BlueNote. We began discussion with our legacy PBX vendor, Nortel, in August about the project. We spent about two months with them trying to explain to them the requirements. They came back to us with the solution that we determined was both cost-prohibitive, and couldn't meet the timeline commitment, which was Dec. 31. We looked at a couple of alternatives. We considered Skype, but we quickly ruled that out because of the proprietary protocol and also the flimsy handsets that we would have to use along with the VOIP calling. We looked at Asterisk. It’s a great solution, but we didn’t have the skill set in-house to manage and support this open-source software.

We selected BlueNote, because they had a supportable open-system platform that allowed us to plug their solution into our SOA framework, leveraging Web services. They were able to install and configure our solution to work in conjunction with our PBX in less than 30 days. The nice part about it is that they support it the same way that we used to get support from our legacy PBX vendor. We get to experience the lower-cost alternatives without ripping and replacing our existing legacy PBX. This will allow us to develop a comfort level over time with the solution, so that it will be a viable replacement alternative for higher-cost PBX in the future.

I would like to give you an overview of the Seaportal, an in-room Web portal that is accessed through a thin client PC running Windows XP Embedded. The thin clients refer to computers that don’t have a hard drive and are used mostly to gain Web access. Typically, they can run Unix, Windows CE, and Windows XP Embedded. These devices are not susceptible to viruses and can be easily returned to a known good state by rebooting them.

When a guest checks out, the cache is erased, and the device is rebooted, awaiting the next guest. There are no traces left behind of where the guest may have surfed to, or any information they have left on the device. It is a thin-client with a touch-screen display, and it provides information about the Seaport and the Seaport district. We are offering our guests complimentary Web access. We also offer complimentary long distance and local calling within the continental United States with the Seaportal.

This is the homepage for the Seaportal and what the guests see when they first get into a room. The homepage is divided into sections. As I mentioned, it’s a touch-screen display and the links on the page have specifically been designed for the touch of a finger. The current weather is displayed on most of the screens and the screen is personalized and welcomes the guest by name, which is a further integration with our property management system using the same SOA XML infrastructure.

Across the bottom of the screen are some quick dial buttons for most of the popular services in the hotel. Across the top we list the main functions of the Seaportal. We have context-sensitive help, so depending on the page that you’re on you’ll get specific information about that page. The phone function is where we provide the complementary VOIP calls. There is Web access for the Internet. We have a "preferences" section where some unique functions, such as the parental controls can be set. And I’ll go into that in just a minute. Then, a short seven-question feedback survey in which we ask our guests to tell us what they liked and disliked about the Seaportal.

This is the preferences screen. We display more information about the guests and the reservation. It tells what room the guest is in. Guests can set their home destination or next destination city and state, and that weather will be displayed to the guests when they enter the "My Weather" function, on the News and Weather tab. There is a built-in messaging function on the Seaportal that allows our guests to send and receive email messages while staying at the hotel. Guests can also have these messages forward to an email or a BlackBerry by providing an email address here.

We’ve built in some parental controls for the guests if they’re traveling with children and don’t want them to have unrestricted access to the Internet or phone. By protecting the Seaportal with the password, the phone messages and the Web options are grayed out. We do offer kid-safe sites through the Seaportal such as Nick Jr., Disney and Yahooligans!, under our Family and Kids sections, that will be available to the kids even though it’s child locked.

Now, I’m going to show you the phone capability. As I mentioned earlier, we’re offering complimentary phone calls initiated from the Seaportal to anywhere in the continental United States and Canada. The dial pad is a familiar interface. Simply enter the number you wish to dial and press "Dial." The phone in the room will ring. When the guest picks it up, they’ll get a short message saying that this is a complimentary call, and the call will be completed across the Internet. As I mentioned before, we have speed dial icons located at the bottom of the screen that let you reach some of the more popular or common hotel services.

On the speed-dial screen, there is no need for a keypad, as the numbers are pre-populated. When the guest clicks the dial button, the same sequence discussed in earlier slides, is followed. If the parental controls are enabled, the dial pad is not accessible. However, the speed dial numbers are still available to the child within the room.

We have digitized our compendium documentation and we have provided a services directory under Guest Services on the Seaportal. These are also click-to-dial enabled, and when the guest slicks on those, the numbers will also be speed dialed. Guests can compose, send, and reply to email messages within the hotel or on the Internet. They can use the preferences tab to have those emails forwarded to them to a particular email address. If someone responds to a message sent to a guest that has checked out, they will receive a message stating that the guest is no longer staying at the hotel. When the guest receives a response, a message waiting icon will appear on the function bar at the top of the screen, next to the home button. When the guest checks out, all the messages are erased.

We also offer instant messaging along with that, which gives access to all of the most popular services under Meebo. Guest can use tabs to navigate through the Seaportal without returning to the homepage. Behind the Seaportal, is a content management system, this allows us to leverage or share information between our Seaportal and our external Seaport Boston site. When we edit content on any of these pages that are shared, we only have to edit it in one place. The content can be displayed in different formats using cascading style sheets.

You can also obtain information on health and fitness, airport, and transportation. The Family and Kids section has the links to the more popular sites that kids like. News and weather, where, if you’ve entered your home zip code and state or your next destination, you can get the weather for that location under "My Weather." Then, we have in-room dining or dining, and you can look at what we offer for in-room dining, takeout, or restaurants in the area. The left navigation links gets to popular topics of interest.

When we bring up an external website, we bring it into the Seaportal framework, giving the guest the appearance that they have never left the site. We also use RSS feeds where available, so that we can limit pop-up ads to the guests. Or, guests can launch the Web tab to open an Internet browser with unlimited Web surfing.

When you launch the Web browser, a full browser is launched and we display a disclaimer message that we do not filter any of the access to the Internet. So, it’s a warning message that you may surf to sites that you might find offensive or otherwise not go to, and it provides unrestricted access to guests to surf the Web. They can access their email through the Web. We offer the most popular viewers for reading Microsoft Office attachments and Adobe PDFs. The Internet access is complimentary to the guest. We also offer complimentary printing from the Seaportal using "print me," which allows our guests to print securely to the printer in our business center using a PIN. Guests find this useful for printing boarding passes prior to departure.

On the front of the Seaportal there are two USBs slots that the guest can use to save attachments to a memory stick. BlueNote has also provided us with the browser helper object, which is at the top of the screen. There is a little phone button, where if there is a phone number on a Web page, that can be highlighted. Simply click the browser helper object, which looks like a phone at the top of the browser, and it will dial the number. It also will translate any mnemonics that the guest entered or were on the Web page, such as 1-800-Bestbuy, and it will dial the appropriate number.

So, in summary, for guests there are many benefits: traveling without lugging the laptop or computer and avoiding the hassle of airport security, and that is a distinct advantage in this day of restricted airline travel; accessing the Internet for business or pleasure; making phone calls anywhere in the U.S. and Canada for free; discovering Boston-area information; learning about the hotel services, places to go and things to do while staying at the Seaport; making restaurant reservations online; sending and receiving Internet email, and printing documents or boarding passes in our business center.

I would like to invite you to stay with the Seaport, Boston’s most accommodating host and experience the Seaportal for yourself. Thank you for your time, and I’ll pass it back to Sally.

Bament: Thank you, John. Just to wrap up, obviously we have a live example of an organization that has benefited from what BlueNote provides with the SessionSuite software technology. Seaport demonstrated how easy it was to voice-enable a portal application, and for their particular case, to extend customer reach, their guest experience, and guest loyalty program. They did leverage Web developers; there was no specific telephony development expertise that was needed as part of embedding the voice-calling capabilities into the portal. John highlighted how quickly this was turned around, in terms of from the time of engagement to deploying the first portals in the hotel rooms.

Very importantly, we allowed John to modernize his existing PBX infrastructure, without forcing him to rip out and replace the PBX that he’d been using for a while, but also to modernize it both in terms of making calls Internet accessible, as well as modernize it in terms of the portal application tie-in. We allowed him to build an opportunity and a foundation to look at new ways of leveraging voice and video and such other interactive communications services as Web services as part of his SOA. Most importantly, it showed how SessionSuite can allow organizations such as hotels, universities, other organizations can derive some business-value from their existing telecom infrastructure.

Before we get into questions and answers, I just want to point out areas where you can get additional information. We focused today’s webinar on the specific portal application, but there are many other applications that will obviously benefit from embedding telephony directly into those applications. We have a BlueNote developer portal or developer site, where you can actually get access to all of the information in detail behind our APIs, including developer documentation, WSDLs, XSD schemas and other information. To request a copy of these slides, you can email, but also we will be posting a recorded version of this webinar on our website in the next day or so.

With that, I am going to open up to questions and answers. We have several questions already.

Question: Do I need special phones to deploy this solution?

Bament: We showed with the generic example and also the Seaportal that you can deploy a solution and still leverage your existing PBX as well as TDM phones. However, SessionSuite also can be deployed in a green-field opportunity, and SessionSuite is fully compatible with a huge list of SIP-based hard phones as well SIP-based soft phones. You can actually get a list of the SIP user agents that we’re compatible with by contacting us at We have our own SIP client, called SessionSuite Desktop, which we didn’t cover in the webinar today, but information regarding that product is available on our website.

Question: Will the slide deck be available after the seminar?

Bament: Yes. Again, you can contact Etta, If that’s too much to remember, because I know I have switched the screen show at this point in time, feel free to just email at, and we’ll also have it posted on the website.

Question: Is the session plug-in implemented using SIP servlets?

Bament: No, SIP servlets actually require a fairly significant knowledge of the SIP protocol. What we’ve done, and have been careful to do, is build a high level of abstraction for telephony integration that allows mid-core processing using SOAP-based Web services. We built our APIs this way, so that business application developers and domain experts can easily add telephony and communications to their applications, without any level of SIP knowledge or telephony knowledge.

Question: When I place a call through the Seaportal, do I use a headset?

Burke: No. What we wanted to leverage with the Seaportal is the existing digital handset that was in the room. We felt that adding a headset or an additional handset would confuse our guests. The headset, in particular, we felt that it was not the cleanest way to do it -- to reuse those types of devices. So, we decided to leverage the existing phone infrastructure, rather than supplying a headset or an additional handset.

Question: What Web services standards do you support?

Bament: There is a lot of information on the website, particularly development of portal in terms of the details, but basically we support XML, XML schema, SOAP and WSDL standards.

Question: What do I get with the software development tool kit?

Bament: You actually get developer documentation, WSDLs, XML schemas, sample code, and also a capacity-limited version of SessionSuite SOA Edition. So, that allows you to test applications prior to deploying and rolling out.

Question: How do you control quality of service for VOIP over the Internet?

Bament: Great question. We talked a little bit about some of the capabilities that are fundamental to SessionSuite communication services in terms of intelligent media handling. We have a number of capabilities in terms of policy based codec selection, voice compression, adaptive jitter buffer, echo cancellation and a couple of other capabilities that allow you to really optimize the voice quality over any link, but particularly the Internet.

Burke: In our particular case, we certainly understood that this is something that people have come to expect from the public switched telephone network, and that was a major concern and consideration of ours. That is another reason why we decided to offer this as a complimentary service, because you can’t guarantee the quality of service over the Internet. There are a lot of things that can happen and, if people are familiar with some of the other consumer based VOIP providers like Vonage, sometimes your quality can vary.

Question: How do you secure the voice, what standards do you support?

Bament: I mentioned we support both media and signaling encryption optionally for voice calls. We support SRTP for media encryption and TLS for signaling encryption, and these can be configured as required to address sort of eavesdropping, identity theft and other security concerns and issues.

Question: How is what you’re doing at the Seaport hotel any different than using a standard soft phone client?

Burke: The difference is that we don’t have to install a soft phone on the actual thin client. It’s all done through Web services. You don’t have the complexity of installing that software, upgrading that software, monitoring that software. It simply uses Web services to pass the room number, the guest name, and the number they want to dial to the BlueNote server through Web service. So it’s a much simpler type of environment and this definitely keeps your cost down in terms of desktop support and administration.

Question: How do you handle media services such as call recording and IVR?

Bament: These capabilities are actually integrated into SessionSuite. This is another difference compared to traditional PBX vendor, where typically these are licensed separately. SessionSuite embeds in it call-recording capability. We also have, as I mentioned before, auto attendant, meet-me conference bridging, an IVR support, and also voicemail. A full list of the features and advance services that we support in SessionSuite is available on our website. We’d be happy to answer any questions directly in terms of the detail, but all of those media services are actually integral and part of the SessionSuite SOA Edition software, with no additional licensing or additional products required.

Question: Do you support video?

Bament: Good question. I think I might have mentioned through the presentation about both voice as well as video. We support point-to-point video connections, so there are a number of SIP-compliant video clients that we have tested and interoperated with. Whether it’s voice or video, we don’t care. It’s more the compatibility with the end clients that we’ve tested against.

Question: Where can I see a demo?

Bament: We can provide a demo of SessionSuite either at your location or at our facility. We’re going to be offering the ability shortly to show a demo over an Internet connection that you can access through our website. That’s not available today, but something that we’re working on, and it should be available shortly. In the meantime, we can certainly provide demos at your location or here at BlueNote Networks in Tewksbury, Mass.

Question: Scale ... How does SessionSuite scale?

Bament: What didn’t necessarily come across in the webinar today is that we run SessionSuite on standard data center servers, Linux-based servers. You can run SessionSuite on a single server or distributed servers throughout the network. So, you can deploy servers based on geography, performance, or functionality needs. We actually can scale to well over 300,000 registered user agents. Our products, through deploying multiple servers, can address the needs of very large enterprises. On the other end of the spectrum, we can also run SessionSuite on a single low-end Dell 1950 server, and can support over 1,000 users in that configuration. So, we can scale quite nicely between smaller configurations with fewer servers to very large enterprise deployments that might be geographically distributed.

Question: How do I get a high-level idea of cost?

Bament: We’d be happy to engage in that conversation. Feel free to contact us at But just to give you an idea in terms of cost we license our software. Depending on the application that could be a server license as well as a user license metric, and we can provide the servers, or you can get them. If you have relationships with some of the hardware server providers, you can get them directly from the vendor. Today, we resell Dell, IBM, and HP servers.

Burke: They’re just standard off-the-shelf, Intel-based servers. We purchased a couple of them, because we wanted redundancy, and shipped them to BlueNote. They configured them for us and delivered them back. The reason we did that is because we have a higher volume discount than they do. But you can go either way.

Bament: I think that’s all that we have time for. If there are other questions that come in, we will respond directly on email. We have everybody’s email contact information. I do want to thank you for your time today, for participating on this webinar. We’re always interested in your feedback in terms of how useful this has been and whether we addressed information that you were expecting on this webinar. So, feel free to provide input directly to us. Again, I appreciate your time and look forward to the next webinar from BlueNote Networks. Thank you.

You've been listening to a sponsored BriefingsDirect podcast, the extension of a recent webinar with BlueNote Networks. Thanks for listening.

Listen to the podcast here. Sponsor: BlueNote Networks, Inc.

Transcript of BriefingsDirect podcast. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2007. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 05, 2007

BriefingsDirect SOA Insights Analysts on SOA Suites Vs. Best-of-Breed SOA, and Master Data Management

Edited transcript of weekly BriefingsDirect[TM] SOA Insights Edition, recorded Jan. 26, 2007.

Listen to the podcast here. If you'd like to learn more about BriefingsDirect B2B informational podcasts, or to become a sponsor of this or other B2B podcasts, contact Dana Gardner at 603-528-2435.

Gardner: Hello, and welcome to the latest BriefingsDirect, SOA Insights Edition, Volume 10. This is a weekly discussion and dissection of Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA)-related news and events with a panel of industry analysts and guests. I’m your host and moderator Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, ZDNet software strategies blogger, and Redmond Developer News magazine SOA columnist.

Our panel this week consists of show regular Steve Garone. Steve is a former IDC Group vice president, founder of the AlignIT Group, and an independent industry analyst. Welcome again, Steve.

Steve Garone: Hi, Dana, great to be back.

Gardner: Also joining us again Joe McKendrick, research consultant, columnist at Database Trends, and a blogger at ZDNet and ebizQ. Thanks for coming, Joe.

Joe McKendrick: Thanks, Dana, glad to be here.

Gardner: Also Tony Baer is making another appearance. He is principal at onStrategies. Thank for coming, Tony.

Tony Baer: Hey, Dana, good to be here.

Gardner: We’re also talking with Neil Macehiter. He is a research director at Macehiter Ward-Dutton in the U.K. Thanks for coming, Neil.

Neil Macehiter: No problem, Dana.

Gardner: And last on our list -- we have a large group today -- Jim Kobielus. Jim is a principal analyst at Current Analysis. Thanks for coming along, Jim.

Jim Kobielus: Thanks a lot, Dana. Hi, everybody.

Gardner: For our first topic this week -- and this is the week of Jan. 22, 2007 -- we’ll begin with the notion of SOA suites, a merging and definable market segment. We’re going to be looking at how mature such suites are. I suppose we should also look at the distinction between the best-of-breed-approach, where one could pick and choose various components within their SOA arsenal, or a more complete suite, a holistic full-feature set with the benefits, trade-offs, and detriments of each of these approaches.

Jim, you’re the one who was interested in this topic. Why don't you give us a little set-up as to what you think the state of the market is?

Kobielus: Thanks a lot. Over time, we’ve all been seeing this notion of a SOA suite take root in the industry’s productization of their various features, functions, and applications. Now, the big guys -- SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, webMethods, for that matter lots of software vendors -- are saying, “Hey, we provide a bigger, 'badder' SOA suite than the next guy.” That raises an alarm bell in my mind, or it’s an anomaly or oxymoron, because when you think of SOA, you think of loose coupling and virtualization of application functionality across a heterogeneous environment. Isn’t this notion of a SOA suite from a single vendor getting us back into the monolithic days of yore?

This thought came to me when I was reading a Wall Street Journal article earlier in the week about SAP, “SAP Trails Nimble Start-Ups As Software Market Matures.” There was one paragraph in there that just jumped out at me. They said, “Some argue that SAP's slump highlights a broader shift under way in business software, in which startup companies wield an advantage over established titans. Under this traditional business model companies buy large, costly packages of software from SAP and Oracle to help them run their back-office functions and so forth, but as the business software industry matures, many companies already have the big software pieces they need, and feel little urgency to replace them.”

So, clearly SAP is then sort of a driver in the SOA suite arena for few years with NetWeaver. Is the notion of SOA suite an oxymoron? Are there are best-of-breed-suites? There are also best-of-breed SOA components, and I’m not sure that the notion of a suite, an integrated suite is really what companies are looking for from SOA. They want best-of-breed components with the assurance, of course, that those components are implementing the full range of SOA standards for heterogeneous interoperability. So, I’m taking issue with this notion of a "best-of-breed" suite. Anybody else have any thoughts on that?

Macehiter: I’ll give you a couple of perspectives on this. We have to recognize that organizations increasingly are looking to rationalize their supply strategy. So, they’re increasingly looking to deal with a smaller number of vendors and suppliers, which is, in part, driving the move toward larger vendors attempting to offer a suite or portfolio of product capabilities that can help organizations manage the lifecycle of an SOA initiative.

That’s one factor that’s driving it. The second issue is the use of the term "suite," and what that really entails, versus what the market is currently delivering. Companies are putting together a bunch of products under a common brand, whether it’s Oracle Fusion, SAP NetWeaver, or under the IBM WebSphere brand. That's one thing. Actually making sure the products are well integrated and that they have a common management environment, common configuration environment, and common policy definition environment is the second thing. That’s one element of it.

The second issue is what actually constitutes a suite to support service-oriented initiatives. There is a tendency, certainly among the larger vendors, to focus on SOA from a development and integration proposition, rather than thinking more broadly about the capabilities you need to support service-oriented initiatives throughout the lifecycle. That extends beyond development and integration into things like security and identity, which have to be incorporated into an overall SOA offering.

Management and monitoring, usage management, audit logging are in the broad range of capabilities that you need. There’s a question as to whether it’s feasible for one vendor to offer all of those capabilities that you need to support an SOA initiative versus a set of core capabilities. Then the hooks in the interoperability allow you to exploit existing security and management infrastructure. There are a number of factors that we need to consider, and a lot of the SOA suite propositions are very much focused around development and integration, rather than management and monitoring, and really dealing with the lifecycle of services.

Gardner: I guess that explains and is consistent with the past. If you can have a cohesive approach to the development side, then the deployment tends to follow, and that’s where you monetize. Steve Garone, what do you think of this breakdown between best-of-breed and a suite?

Garone: All of us on this podcast today know that the debate over best-of-breed versus integrated-stack approach has been going for many years in a variety of scenarios and contexts, and it hasn’t stopped. I don’t really like the word "suite." It reeks more of marketing than functionality. I think what you really have to look at in terms of SOA is how people are actually approaching getting into building SOA-based environments.

What we’ve seen so far -- and we’ve talked about this on other podcasts -- is that up to this point people have tended to do pilot projects that are much lower in scale than what they will eventually do if they have success with the immediate projects. One tends to think that what they’re going to do at that point is pick and choose the individual products and functions that they need to make that happen in the short term.

I think that’s what we’re seeing, but I also sense that, despite the fact that everybody wants an open environment where they can pick and choose and not be tied to one vendor, what overrides all this is a desire to get things done quickly, efficiently. They want a way in which they don’t have to be concerned about integrating a lot of products and what that entails, and having potentially an unreliable environment. What that points to is working toward one vendor. End users will do that even in the short term by choosing someone that they know they can grow with in the future.

Gardner: Pragmatically, these vendors are also looking at their future and they’re saying, “We have an installed base. We have certain shops where we’re predominant. We want to be able to give them a clear path as to how to attain SOA values from their investment in our legacy. Therefore, we need to follow through with add-ons that smack of a integrated-stack approach.” So, it is almost incumbent on vendors to try to produce this "whole greater than the sum of the parts" -- if not to build out more SOA business, then just to hold on to their previous business.

Garone: That up brings up another interesting point, which is vendors, especially the platform vendors. The larger vendors, like IBM, Sun, and so on, tend to try to walk the line between being able to offer a fully integrated stack of software to accomplish whatever the goal it is -- in this case SOA implementations -- and also being what might be called “integratable.” This means you can bring in another product, because we adhere to standards, we’ll be able to help you do that.

They try to walk that line; where that really makes a difference is not so much what you are going to do in the future, but rather what you have done in the past. If you've got an existing registry that you used for identity management with your current applications, if you have existing app servers -- which is probably more common -- whomever you choose is going to have to be able to allow you to continue to work with those as part of a legacy environment. It sounds funny calling application servers legacy, but at this point you can do that, and that’s really where the "integratability" aspects of a fully integrated stack come into play.

Gardner: So how about you, Joe McKendrick? Do you see that the drive for simplicity and working from your installed base creates a compelling case for an integrated SOA approach? Or is the trade-off such that this is really not going to happen anymore? Is that the old way -- and is SOA fundamentally different, and therefore one should look for a different strategy?

McKendrick: Perhaps a little of both, Dana. Basically the industry still operates under the traditional mode where a lot of enterprises rely on one vendor -- we'll call it a master vendor -- that supplies most of its solutions. We see that in the IBM and in the Oracle markets. I agree with Jim that the notion of a SOA suite is very much an oxymoron. The idea of a SOA is to have "hot-swappable" software components that you could install and take out as needed in a loosely coupled architecture.

Dana, you hit upon the point that the vendors themselves have to demonstrate that they have some type of path to their installed base. They need some type of path to show that, "Yes, we are on top of the technology." In fact, if you speak with vendors out there about this strategy, even if the products or the path that they're offering are something customers aren’t adopting at the moment, it’s something they want to see with the vendor. If Oracle, hypothetically, wasn’t talking about SOA at all, there would be a lot of consternation, a lot of concern, among their installed base as to where the vendor is going.

Gardner: SAP would walk in, and their sales people would beat them up in these accounts, right?

McKendrick: Exactly. Now, Oracle is an interesting case. When I think of suites, I think Oracle demonstrates the best tendency in this area. In fact, they called their offering "The SOA Suite," and they include a number of components. I have spoken with some companies that have Oracle installations. Now, it should be noted that typically the customers for these suites are the installed base. The people who will be buying into the components of the Oracle SOA suite are companies that either have the Oracle applications, the E-Business suite or the Oracle database underneath. And, in most cases, they are buying into components of the suite.

I've heard a lot of positive things said about the BPEL Process Manager, for example. And, they are buying into pieces of the solutions, and as Steve pointed out -- it’s still in the pilot-project stage. We’re not seeing widespread enterprise implementations, but they are beginning to buy into pieces of these solutions such as the BPEL Process Manager.

Gardner: Hey, Tony Baer, how about you? Do you think that we are mature enough in SOA that we should be looking for homogeneity when it comes to tools and even deployment side? Or, is heterogeneity the issue that we are trying to manage?

Baer: As Steve was saying before, we can’t decompose it down to the age-old argument of best-of-breed versus integrated-stack. There is always going to be a tension between homogeneity and heterogeneity. For the customer, it’s going to be dictated obviously by what is already in place, basically as Joe pointed out. If 60 percent of my functionality, or even say 30 or 40 percent of my functionality, is SAP, I’m likely to listen when SAP tells me about a NetWeaver Solution.

On the other hand, if I’m in a sector that does not lend itself to package solutions, I will more than likely tend to take a best-of-breed approach -- especially if I do a lot of homegrown development, because my business is so unique. There will always be that creative tension there. That being said, the fact is that at the infrastructural level, there is a desire to have consistency. I don’t want to have five security engines. I don’t want to have three different authentications, if possible. Obviously, we’re never going to get that one, centralized identity repository in the sky, but I want to at least have my management framework be as consistent as possible and to manage what will inevitably be, in most large organizations, a federation of different installed bases of different technologies.

The other side of this is that for vendors -- and Oracle is probably the best poster child for this -- the reality in the enterprise software industry has been one of merger, acquisition, and consolidation. This means that vendors who started as organic developers now have four or five different product lines and each has had a separate lineage. The only way to put some rationality there is something like an Oracle Fusion SOA framework. Oracle has to develop this, if only out of the necessity to keep its own product offerings consistent.

Gardner: Now, back to Jim Kobielus’s point about this integrated approach being an oxymoron for SOA. Shouldn’t the vision of SOA allow us to have it both ways? If you have a culture and mindset in an organization, maybe it’s because of your legacy. Maybe it’s because of how you operate and the value you’ve perceived in past IT investments. Thus, you might want to remain with more of a single-vendor or an integrated-stack approach, but there might be other vendors without a legacy to drag along. The enterprise may want to take advantage of any innovation they can to be functionally heterogeneous and to explore and test open-source componentry as that becomes available. Shouldn’t SOA allow both of these approaches -- and pretty much equally?

Macehiter: In principle it should. We have to be careful to distinguish between the infrastructure that you require to enable SOA initiatives and what you’re trying to enable with that service-oriented initiative. Just because you want to have a loosely coupled component that you can combine in multiple ways to deliver business outcomes, doesn’t mean that the infrastructure that underpins that has to be similarly loosely coupled and based on the heterogeneous offerings from different vendors. So, there is a separation there.

We also we have to bear in mind the challenges around going for best-of-breed approach, which are well understood. It’s not so much whether the individual components can actually talk to one another but more about things like the management environment and how you manage the configuration and how do you deal with policy definition?

We’ve done some detailed assessments of service infrastructure offerings from SAP, BEA, IBM, Oracle, Sun, and webMethods. If you actually dig under the covers, you will see that each of the components has its own policy definition approach. So, the way you configure policy within the orchestration engine is inconsistent with the way you do it within the security and identity management capabilities, and that challenge occurs within suites. That’s going to be compounded as you look across different components. That introduces risk into the deployment. It reduces the visibility of the end-to-end deployment. It's those factors that are going to be important, as well as whether a communication and brokerage capability can integrate with the registry and repository. There are a number of factors that you have to bear in mind there.

Kobielus: I agree -- I think that the notion of a best-of-breed SOA suite makes more sense from an enterprise customer’s point of view. Most enterprises want to standardize on a single vendor and a single stack for the SOA plumbing -- the registries and repositories and also the development tools. They want the flexibility to plug in the different application layer components from Oracle and SAP and others, that are SOA-enabled and that can work with that single-core-plumbing-stack from a single vendor.

Gardner: Perhaps the tension here is between what aspects of SOA should be centralized, repeatable, simplified, and consolidated, and which ones should not. It’s not really a matter of SOA homogeneous or SOA heterogeneous. In moving toward SOA, should you say, "Listen, this is going to be common throughout. Let’s reuse this. Let’s manage our policy as centrally as possible.

"We might say the same for other federated and directory services. We might say the same for our tooling, so that we don’t have myriad tools and approaches from our developers. On the other hand, we want to have great flexibility and loosely coupled benefits, when it comes to which services, be they internal or external, be they traditional nature or more of a ‘software as a service’ nature that we can easily incorporate and then manage those as process."

So, is the dividing line here, Steve Garone, between what architecturally makes sense as centralized and not?

Garone: Actually I’ve just sort of been chomping on the bit here a little, because I’ve been listening to the conversation. This a really important point, mostly because there is a lot of stuff -- a lot of analyst opinion, a lot of blogging -- floating around that I’ve read, and I know you guys have probably read, on this very subject, the sort of philosophical dichotomy between what SOA is supposed to be and the notion of an SOA suite or a SOA integrated stack.

Frankly, from the end-user perspective, the message ought to be that the whole notion of SOA, as it relates to loose coupling, is really focused on the services and the applications that you’re going to deliver. That doesn't imply or even suggest that your infrastructure cannot be based on an integrated stack or software that’s designed to work well together. It allows you to work with a single vendor, and to be very efficient about how you both develop, deploy, and maintain and manage your environment.

Gardner: We also have to remember that this evolution of SOA is not happening in a vacuum. There are other major IT trends and business trends of worth. Many of them are focused on trying to reduce the cost of ongoing maintenance and support somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of total IT costs, and maybe more, to free up discretionary spending and to reduce the total spending for IT in many organizations. The trends often involved include data center consolidation, moving toward a more standardized approach for underlying hardware, embracing virtualization/grid/utility principles, and so on. Perhaps we have to recognize that even as SOA moves on its own sort of trajectory, organizations are going to be consolidating and looking for commonality of services, and improved support and maintenance types of features throughout their infrastructure.

Garone: Just to make one more small point. The one area that may diverge from the philosophy that we’ve been talking about is in the area of open source. I think that people who go out and try to implement SOA-based solutions on a variety of levels using open source technology may tend to take a more best-of-breed, individual-component approach than those who would run to their local IBM sales rep and say, “What do I do with SOA?” Even that’s going to change over time, and we’re starting to see SOA suites develop around open-source technology as well. So, that’s going to move in that direction as time goes on.

Gardner: That's another trend that is in tandem with SOA and needs to be woven together with it. It’s obviously a large undertaking. I‘m also reminded, after an interesting briefing I took this week with Informatica, and Ash Kulkarni. We had a really long, interesting discussion about the role of data, master data, and metadata when it comes to moving toward SOA. We really shouldn’t lose track of the fact that as you move to applications as services, and you go loosely coupled, and you adopt more reuse across development with common frameworks, and use rich internet application interfaces -- what about the data?

The data has to be managed as well. Increasingly, companies that have had mergers and acquisitions, or have just gotten myriad applications with varying views of something as specific as a customer identity -- there might be 10 or 15 different views of a customer, as defined by a variety of different applications. How do you manage that? And when you think about the progression of the data, it seems to me that if not in actuality, in a virtual sense, you want to become centralized with your data so that data can be used in a clean and impactful or productive way across all of your services.

Does anyone out there have some thoughts about what considerations to have when it comes to data in this decision about best-of-breed or integrated approach?

Macehiter: I was just going to say, the issue is that data has always been treated as a second-class citizen, and that it has been the product of applications which have then been subsequently analyzed. More organizations are recognizing this need to treat data as a peer, and deliver access to information, whether it’s structured or unstructured, as a service, which can be incorporated as needed into business process.

IBM was quick to identify this when they sold the information as a service strategy. And Oracle, surprisingly, given where they have come from, has actually not really enunciated data services, vision and platform. Although I did notice something on the Oracle Technology Network a couple of weeks ago, where they are just starting to talk about Oracle Data Integrator, based on an acquisition they made of a company called Sunopsis.

So, increasingly that's going to become part of the broader suite proposition. And, this is not just in the area of data but -- more broadly as customer adoption matures -- what constitutes an SOA suite. We’ve seen this around registry and repository, which historically was a best-of-breed proposition from the likes of Systinet and Infravio. Where are they now? They're part of a broader suite proposition from HP and webMethods, respectively. We’ll see this again.

Through acquisition what constitutes a suite will broaden as organizations become more mature in their approach to SOA. "Information as a service" is exactly one of those areas. Initially, that will probably be served by best-of-breed components, and then through a combination of acquisitions or very close partnership relationships will gradually be subsumed into what organizations believe is a SOA suite.

Gardner: Any other thoughts on the data services level and how that relates to this discussion?

Kobielus: I cover SOA for Current Analysis, primarily with reference to data management; and SOA in the data management realm is really consistent with master data management (MDM) as a discipline. Basically, master data management revolves around how you share, reuse, and enable maximum interoperability of your core master reference data, your single version-of-truth information, which is maintained in data warehouses and various operational data stores, and so forth.

Informatica is one of many vendors -- you mentioned Informatica earlier -- that has a strong MDM strategy. But there are are a lot of enterprise information integration (EII) vendors out there. EII revolves around really federated MDM, where you keep the data in its source repository, and then provide a virtualized access layer. This allows your business intelligence and other applications to access that data through a common object or model and a common set of access schemas -- wherever that data might reside -- but facilitated through a virtualized access layer. That’s very much EII as implemented by Business Objects, BEA, and many other vendors, and is very much the approach for federated MDM.

Gardner: Let me pause you there for a minute, Jim. If a virtualized centralization works for information, why wouldn’t it work for other aspects of SOA?

Kobielus: Oh, it does. Virtualization, of course, is one of the big themes in SOA.

Gardner: You can enjoy the benefits of a homogeneous approach, but, in fact, have great heterogeneity beneath the covers. Isn't that the whole idea of SOA -- to provide homogeneity in terms of productivity control management, and yet with flexibility and agility?

Kobielus: SOA, first and foremost, is a virtualization approach -- virtualization defined as an approach for abstracting the external call interface from the internal implementation of a resource, be it data or application functionality.

Gardner: So SOA is best-of-breed -- and it’s integrated. And you can pick and choose how to proceed, based perhaps on your legacy and your skill sets.

Macehiter: We just have to be clear to distinguish between the assets or resources that you’re virtualizing through SOA, which is typically going to be functional assets versus whether you need to virtualize the infrastructure and apply SOA to the underlying infrastructure. That’s the key distinguishing point. And that gets the point that was being raised earlier about virtualized access to information.

The infrastructure could be common, but the information assets that you’re accessing will be in heterogeneous repositories accessed in a number of different ways. This is exactly what IBM is doing with its offerings around information-as-a-service, and BEA as well. It's having the equivalent of application adapters by applying them to information assets and then exposing those through a service interface, so it’s virtualized and transparent: where the information is, how it’s stored and what format it’s in.

Kobielus: You mentioned Oracle’s acquisition of Sunopsis, which is interesting, because Sunopsis is an ETL vendor and the transform side of it is critically important. When you are extracting data from source repositories, you’re transforming it in various ways. Traditionally, Sunopsis’s tools have been used primarily to support transformation of data, which will then be loaded into centralized data warehouses.

But transformation functionality is important, whether you’re doing it in an ETL data warehousing environment -- in other words, the traditional bus for MDM -- or whether you’re doing the transformation in an EII environment. There, in fact, you are not ultimately loading the transform data into a central store, but rather simply transforming the data, keeping it in it’s original schema, but transforming it so it can be rationalized, harmonized, or aligned with a virtualized data access model provided by that EII environment.

Macehiter: Exactly. The transformation should occur behind the service interface, and this is why you need the idea of common information models and common schema models.

Gardner: Before we get down too much in the weeds on EII -- we can address that perhaps in a whole show in the future with a guest who is very much involved with that industry. Let’s move on to our second topic today, given the amount of time we have.

There are a burgeoning number of critical skill sets that need to be applied to SOA. We’ve talked about data, whether it’s cleansing, transforming, virtualizing and approaching some sort of a MDM capability. We have talked about development and process, BPEL. We talked about infrastructure. There is the management, the architectural overview, and what’s our philosophy.

It seems like we’re going to need a lot of very skilled people who are both generalists, as well as highly specific and technical. Because for SOA to work, a bunch of people who are highly specific -- but don’t share the same vision or have a general sense of the strategy -- probably won’t fare too well. This issue comes to us from Joe McKendrick. Joe, give us a little setup and overview of where you think things are headed in terms of the necessary skill sets companies are going to need in order to accomplish the promise of SOA.

McKendrick: Thanks, Dana. It’s interesting. Actually, the impetus for my thinking on this came from a report Ron Schmelzer posted and I reported on my blog this week.

Gardner: Ron being with ZapThink.

McKendrick: That’s correct. He is sounding the alarm bells that the folks that we need to drive SOA forward in the enterprise is this class of enterprise architects and enlightened architects, if you will. There are a lot of SOA projects everybody is interested in. Everybody’s kind of ginned up about SOA now, and we’ve been hearing about it. Enterprises really want to begin to either pilot or move SOA past the pilot stage, and 2007 should be a big year.

Ron Schmelzer feels there may not be enough architects who can take this high-level view and drive this process forward. Now, it’s interesting, but when I posted this on my blog, I got lot of feedback that perhaps architects are not the only ones who can really lead this effort. There are plenty of developers out there, high-level developers, who can also contribute to the process and interact with the business. The key behind this argument is that you need folks who know what’s going on technically, but can interact with the business. It can be a rare skill to have both.

Gardner: Yeah, this is going to be demanding. You can get Oracle-certified, you can get Microsoft-certified, IBM-certified. Where do you go to become SOA architect-certified?

McKendrick: Where do you go in terms of higher education institutes to get trained on architectural planning and network design? I’ve talked to lots of people who say, “Yeah, we look at the computer science graduates coming up, but how many of these people really, fully have had any training or courses whatsoever on broad architectural subjects like SOA?" Very few.

Kobielus: That’s true. Not to get reminiscent or anything, but 10 years ago, when we started seeing Java ramp up, we saw a lag there as well. A lot of organizations were really hungry for Java developers, and the universities came through with more focus on it, but later than probably most organizations wanted. What will happen here is that while this ramp-up goes on, we might see a lot of new business and new interest in service organizations that can provide the professional services required to get people through it.

Macehiter: Yeah, that’s true. That’s going to be an important -- absolutely an important source. Also, there’s some work under way. I don’t know whether any of you are familiar with the the International Association of Software Architects (IASA), which is really trying to foster a community that does try and share best practice around software architecture, including SOA.

You hit the nail on the head in terms of the key skills that are required around being able to interface with the business. One of the skills and attributes that you also need as a SOA architect is really this ability to balance supporting short-term business outcomes but keeping an eye on the longer-term objectives in terms of gaining high quality and maximizing IT value. That’s an equally difficult skill because too often architecture historically has been focused on quite discrete initiatives or infrastructure. I’m thinking about server architecture or network architecture rather than this broader perspective. There are skills occurring from such things as Oasis and what they are trying to do around things like SOA blueprints. It will be useful to get someone from Oasis in a future podcast to discuss this, because this is where the education is coming from.

Gardner: I think that if everyone goes about SOA methodically on his or her own track, and based on their own experience, and we are going to come up with a real mish-mash, then it’s going to be a problem. There needs to be some standardization around methodology.

Coincidentally, in April we’re expecting to see version 3 of the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). This is focused on the lifecycle of services. It’s really more at the IT service-management level than pure technology, but it does offer blueprints and books and standardized approaches on how to setup an IT department and manage some of these organizational things. It strikes me that that might be another influence on bringing some kind of a cohesive approach to SOA, rather than be totally scatter-shot.

Macehiter: ITIL came out of the U.K. government. What was interesting about it is that it was driven very much from the experience of people who were grappling with these very challenges. That’s where it’s going to come from in SOA. It’s going to come from things like the IASA and others practitioners defining the best practice, rather than a more theoretical, academic approach to defining the ideal methodology.

Gardner: It's my understanding that the global systems integrators are very interested in this coming version of ITIL, and some of these other standardization-for-methodological-benefit approaches. As I’ve said before, SOA is the gift that keeps giving, if you’re a systems integrator in a professional services organization. It will be really interesting to see how successful they are at bringing a standardized set of approaches to the SOA architect role and whether that’s actually in their best interests over time.

McKendrick: And when it washes up on these shores, we’ll call it American ITIL.

Gardner: Actually the number of ITIL users is highest in the private sector and in North America, as I understand it, although it’s hard to see to what degree people actually use it. I think people use it in dribs and drabs and not in entirety.

McKendrick: It’s going to be interesting. There’s a lot of emphasis on compliance now, and data management is a big part of it as well. ITIL is really going to come into play, and should be coming into play, because processes are outsourced. Because processes are being managed by third-party firms, you need to have across-the-board standards to ensure that the data is being managed properly and in accordance with some type of universal standard. And, the regulators are going to want to see that as well.

Gardner: Well, I think we’ve come up with two separate shows we'll need to do -- one on enterprise information integration (EII) and dig in to that topic specifically; and then, perhaps, we should do an ITIL show, get someone who is familiar with some of the authoring there, and dig into its implications for SOA.

Well I think that wraps it up for today. We’ve covered quite a bit of ground in a short amount of time. I want to thank all of our guests. We’ve had Steve Garone, Joe McKendrick, Neil Macehiter, Tony Baer and Jim Kobielus. This is Dana Gardner, your host and moderator for this week’s BriefingsDirect SOA Insights Edition. Please come back and join us next week. Thank you.

If any of our listeners are interested in learning more about BriefingsDirect B2B informational podcasts or to become a sponsor of this or other B2B podcasts, please fill free to contact me, Dana Gardner at 603-528-2435.

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Transcript of Dana Gardner’s BriefingsDirect SOA Insights Edition, Vol. 10. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2007. All rights reserved.