Friday, October 11, 2019

Insights and Challenges from Mulesoft Connect 2019

#CONNECT19 @MuleSoft is a significant player in the Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) market. I've just spent some time at their annual customer event in London.

Over the years, I've been to many events like this. A technology company organizes an event, possibly repeated at several locations around the globe, attended by customers and prospects, business partners, employees and others. After an introduction of loud music and lights shining in your face, the CEO or CTO or honoured guest bounces onto the stage and provides a keynote speech. Outside, there will be exhibition stands with product demonstrations, as well as information about complementary products and services.

At such events, we are presented with an array of messages from the company and its business partners, with endorsements and some useful insights from a handful of customers. So how to analyse and evaluate these messages?

Firstly, what's new. In the case of Mulesoft, the core technology vision of microserves, networked applications and B2B ecosystems has been around for many years. (At the CBDi Forum, we were talking about some of this stuff over ten years ago.) But it's useful to see how far the industry has got towards this vision, and how much further there is to go. In his presentation, Mulesoft CTO Uri Sarid described a complex ecosystem that might exist by around 2025, including demand-side orchestration of services. There is a fair amount of technology for supply-side orchestration of APIs, but demand-side orchestration isn't really there yet.

Furthermore, organizations are often cautious about releasing the APIs into the wild. For example, government departments may make APIs available to other government departments, local governments and the NHS, but in many cases it is not yet possible for citizens to consume these APIs directly, or for a third party (such as a charity) to act as a mediator. However, some sectors have made progress in this direction, thanks to initiatives such as Open Banking.

However, the technology has allowed all sorts of things to be done much faster and more reliably, so I heard some good stories about the speed with which new functionality can be rolled out across multiple endpoints. As some of the technical obstacles are removed, IT people should be able to shift their attention to business transformation, or even imagination and innovation.

MuleSoft argues that the API economy will drive / is driving a rapid cycle of (incremental) innovation, accelerating the pace of change in some ecosystems. MuleSoft is enthusiastic about  citizen integration or democratization, shifting the initiative from the Town Planners to the Settlers and Pioneers. However, if APIs are to serve as reusable building blocks, they need to be built to last. (There is an important connection between ideas of trimodal development and ideas of pace layering, which needs to be teased out further.)

Secondly, what's different. Not just differences between the past and the present, but differences between Mulesoft and other vendors with comparable offerings. At a given point in time, each competing product will provide slightly different sets of features at different price points, but feature comparisons can get outdated very quickly. And if you are acquiring this kind of technology, you would ideally like to know the total cost of ownership, and the productivity you are likely to get. It takes time and money to research such questions properly, and I'm not surprised that so many people rely on versions of the Magic Sorting Hat produced by the large analyst firms.

By the way, this is not just about comparing Mulesoft with other iPaaS vendors, but comparing iPaaS with other technologies, such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

And thirdly, what's missing. Although I heard business strategy for APIs mentioned several times, I didn't hear much about how this could be done. Several speakers warned against using the term API for a non-technical audience, and advised people to talk about service benefit.

But how to identify and analyse service benefit? How do you identify the service value that can be delivered through APIs, how do you determine the right level of granularity and asset-specificity, and what are the design principles? In other words, how do you get the business requirements that drive the use of MuleSoft or other iPaaS products? I button-holed a few consultants from the large consultancies, but the answers were mostly disappointing.

I plan to attend some similar events this month, and shall write a couple of general follow-up posts.


Here's an article I wrote in 2002, which mentioned Sun Microsystems' distinction between micro services and macro services.

Richard Veryard, Identifying Web Services (CBDI Journal, February 2002)

And here are two articles discussing demand-side orchestration.

Richard Veryard and Philip Boxer, Metropolis and SOA Governance (Microsoft Architecture Journal, July 2005)

Philip Boxer and Richard Veryard, Taking Governance to the Edge (Microsoft Architecture Journal, August 2006)

See also CBDI Journal Archive

Link to MuleSoft presentations

Related post: Strategy and Requirements for the API Ecosystem (October 2019)

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