Enterprise Software

Is middleware in your consulting future?

Need applications to talk and share data? You can learn several formats and languages to get the job done, or you can use middleware to translate.

 As I suffered through yet one more connectivity mess, I found myself longing for the Star Trek gadgets that seamlessly download alien data into our human databases — without a glitch! About a decade ago, I thought transferring data would have more universal solutions by now. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Many companies have a hodgepodge of applications, from Web-based applications with hundreds of users to desktop applications with just one user. They're in a variety of formats, and to be helpful (and successful), you need to speak all those languages. If you interact with your client's development staff, their problems become yours. The problem of getting one batch of records in one format to play nicely with another batch of files in another format isn't unique, but it is tiresome.

More often than we'd like to admit, we end up with a mess we have to clean up or hire someone else to clean up. It's not unheard of for the technical folks involved to give up and hire someone to re-enter data; in this day and age that's outrageous, but sometimes it truly is quicker and cheaper than the alternative. (I'm a fast typist, and I once made a sinfully high fee for re-entering a manuscript when an editor couldn't work with a specific file format.)

Middleware, such as Jitterbit and Microsoft BizTalk Server, might be the answer for IT consultants. Middleware is software that links applications and data. Revenue in 2007 topped $14 million.

Middleware's a winner for both clients and the consultant. Anytime you can automate a task, you reduce the bottom line, and perhaps more importantly, the margin for error. Right now, it's a bit pricy, so the consultant who can offer an expertise in middleware will have a competitive edge.

If you're using middleware, please share your experiences — the good and the bad — in the discussion.

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Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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