IBM expands its SOA play with Webify acquisition

IBM Wednesday announced an acquisition to help it round out its SOA product portfolio and provide more customer engagement opportunities in health-care and insurance for its Global Services division.

IBM has bought Austin, Tex.-based Webify Solutions for an unspecified amount. Its middleware products will be rolled into IBM WebSphere. Webify’s two main products are Industry Fabric, a platform onto which policy and governance tools can be deployed, and Industry Composite Business Services, network-centric applications designed for specific verticals. Webify’s two biggest markets are health-care and insurance, but the company was also working on products geared towards banking and telecommunications when it was bought by IBM.

Webify specializes in SOA-based solutions. SOA, or service-oriented architecture, is an approach that allows pre-determined pieces of code to be re-used, in theory making applications development and deployment quicker and cheaper. Robert LeBlanc, general manager of IBM’s WebSphere division, said the company targeted Webify to quickly “enhance IBM’s portfolio of SOA offerings.”

Webify’s tools and frameworks “really helps customers build very, very quickly the next-generation applications that provide business value,” he said.

Customer demand for SOA-based architecture is creating new work for IBM Global Services, said Peggy Vaughan, Global Consulting Services Leader.

“We’re seeing an amazing uptake in our customers’ requests for industry-specific expertise with regard to the creation of SOA,” she said. By buying Webify, “we’ll gain immediate access to their extensive library of composite business service modules and suites to speed delivery of mission-critical industry business solutions.”

Webify and IBM have partnered for the last three years, said chairman and CEO of Webify Manoj Saxena, which should ease the integration process.

For example, Webify and WebSphere technology were part of a 10-year, US$94-million contract IBM reached with Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company last year. The insurance firm is replacing its legacy systems with an SOA architecture that can consolidate its billing and administration functions.

Webify middleware also works with Oracle and BEA architecture that compete with IBM’s WebSphere portfolio. There are no plans to discontinue support for those products, said Saxena. “We’ve investing a significant amount of technology and time to make sure we’re open standards based.”

There is a push underway to get Webify in the hands of IBM Global Services, said Saxena, but the products will continue to be available through other systems integrators like BearingPoint and Accenture.

Saxena said he will continue to manage Webify products under the direction of LeBlanc. The company’s 120 employees in Austin and its development centre in Mumbai, India, will also stay on at IBM.

Forrester analyst Sean Sweeney said the Webify acquisition makes sense for IBM, but SOA is a market that has yet to reach fruition. Corporate spending departments are still assessing the technology’s usefulness.

“The IT side gets it, but the business side has always been a little leery,” he said, adding the adjustment period is the same for any new technology that software vendors are touting as the latest and greatest. “In the past (the business side) has been promised certain things and is sometimes disappointed when there’s failure to deliver, be it CRM or different new, hot, technologies. There’s still an education period around SOA.”

Webify is IBM’s third SOA-based acquisition in the last 14 months.

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