Software AG CPO Stefan Sigg on the role of webMethods in an API-first, microservices world

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright September 22, 2021 Audio mode
Summary:
Can webMethods help connect longstanding enterprise IT assets into a modern, API-first, microservices-based architecture? We asked Software AG's Stefan Sigg and he told us, "Somebody has to clean up the kitchen!"

Chaotic LED light connections - Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash
(israel palacio on Unsplash)

The apocryphal advice to someone asking for directions that "I wouldn't start from here" is particularly apposite in the world of enterprise IT. Established businesses don't have the option of starting with an all-cloud, API-centric, tierless architecture. Instead, they must map a journey that accommodates the many detours of the past, often including mainframes and standalone client-server systems as well as newer SaaS and cloud-native deployments, along with multiple generations of integration technologies. Any technology roadmap must be sensitive both to where these organizations are starting from and to their ultimate business goals. As Stefan Sigg, Chief Product Officer of Software AG, puts it:

Software guys, we tend to have one big flaw. We fall in love with technology and some technology concepts. We build something. And then we go to the customer and say, 'Here's the solution. Where's your problem?' That rarely works. You need to know what is the customer's challenges, problems, use cases — and then you build something.

Software AG is a company that has some familiarity with those earlier detours, with a pedigree going back more than fifty years in the form of its mainframe tools. A decade and a half ago it acquired webMethods, a leading Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) product born in the early days of web services and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). That was a time when technologists seemed to believe that building out the architecture would solve all the problems. Today, the company takes a more pragmatic approach that recognizes the messy reality of enterprise IT. Sigg sums up:

People are not so much overwhelmed anymore with these kind of clean, textbook-type architecture things. People have the stuff working — and if it is 'dirty', then for God's sake, it's dirty. Somebody has to clean up the kitchen!

The challenge of becoming a truly connected enterprise in today's world is the headline theme of the company's annual user conference, which takes place virtually early next month, from October 5-7. You can register for the event here and access all of diginomica's coverage in our dedicated event hub here.

Connecting the plumbing

For Sofware AG's customers, the roadmap to where they want to get to is a messy combination of the old world and the latest technologies, and the journey to smooth everything out is necessarily one that will take time. Says Sigg:

That's what we do. A combination of the nice world, everything is API, but behind the scenes, there's still a lot of plumbing going on. I think there is a roadmap where this plumbing also becomes more and more clean. But, you know, there's plumbing.

Today, webMethods can still connect to that older plumbing, but has also developed a strong focus on an API-centric and microservices environment. It offers API management and an API portal that works with multiple API gateways, as well as the ability to connect into services running on Kubernetes clusters. It has cloud integration through the webMethods.io iPaaS, based on the acquisition of Built.io two years ago, which also brought a self-service interface that supports a federated IT approach to integration. There is a drag-and-drop UI for business users and a graphical flow editor for power users, along with machine learning that automatically suggests mappings based on observed best practices. The platform can also integrate IoT resources through Software AG's Cumulocity product line. All of this is designed to meet customers where they are today and harness integration to help them innovate for the future. Sigg explains:

Customers, of course, move into the cloud with their data centers. But they never move 100%. Some move 50%, some move 70%, some move 80%, but it's almost never a big-bang 100% move. So that means that previously established integration of the IT landscape is being broken up, because part will be moving into the cloud ...

You have to re-establish the integration again. The semantic need for integration is not going away, just because you have a different deployment now. So what what is strongly needed is a hybrid integration technology — which we are strongly majoring in.

Sigg believes several factors differentiate Software AG in this market. First of all, he emphasizes its status as an independent company — "Software AG is almost the only player that is still independent... which is, for integration, quite an important consideration." Second, he repeats its ability "to do the dirty work in a hybrid landscape." Thirdly, its investment in IoT is unique among integration players, he believes. And finally its pedigree allows it to integrate a classical EAI stack and B2B integration with iPaaS and an API and microservices layer, "and the grey zone in between."

My take

With the experiences of the past year-and-a-half only serving to increase the pressure on established enterprises to become more agile, it's no wonder that modernizing IT infrastructure has become front-of-mind. But most enterprises are held back by a mix of systems that were never built to integrate in the first place, alongside other systems that were built to integrate using the object broker technologies of the 1990s or service-oriented architectures of the 2000s. Now add in cloud and SaaS applications along with the latest microservices-based, API-centric systems. The big challenge is getting all of that to work together in a way that delivers the agile destination everyone wants to get to.

By continuing to modernize webMethods, Software AG has created a platform that can connect the old and the new. It may not have the 'sex appeal' of a shiny new offering. But for organizations that need a pragmatic solution to deal with the IT landscape they're starting from, something that gives them a realistic chance to just "clean up the kitchen," as Sigg puts it, is likely very welcome.


For more diginomica coverage of Software AG's conXion 2021 virtual event, visit our conXion event hub. The event will be live from October 5-7th and sessions will be available afterwards to view on-demand until the end of the year. Click here to register for the event and view the sessions.