Middleware: The Digital Marketer's Invisible Enabler

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You may not know much about it (or anything about it at all), but it silently powers all the relevant connections you make with consumers

Most CMOs have no idea what middleware is. It's okay, because they'll likely never have to buy it or even touch it. They don't need to trouble themselves over how it works. In the interests of due professional diligence, however, they may want to at least be aware of how this enabler of data transferral between the cloud and internet applications will make possible a goodly number of the magical connections they'll make with consumers in the coming decade.

According to Webopedia, middleware is “software that connects two otherwise separate applications.” It further analogizes it as plumbing that connects two sides of an application to pass data between them. But that understates the crucial role that middleware will play in direct marketing, says Dario DeBarbieri, global director of IBM Middleware. “If you're a CMO, there is little that you will do without middleware. Your life almost depends on it. But you probably won't see it or think about it on a daily basis,” says DeBarbieri (above), who calls middleware “ the glue that puts all the software together.”

Free, marketing-supported apps, for instance, could not exist without middleware. Your smartphone navigation app accesses one API to determine your route, another to serve a retailer's ad, and another to access your customer data. It's the middleware that pulls all that information, but the middleware remains invisible. All a marketer will see is ads served and converted on a dashboard, and all a consumer sees is the ad.

The awesome potential for making customer connections offered up by the cloud makes middleware an essential component in how marketing campaigns play out. Perhaps the most common way that CMOs will get involved with the software is determining how powerful they need it to be to effect the types of campaigns they want to run and the results they expect to achieve.

“As we move forward, there will be more cloud native applications and more power will be needed to make it work. Middleware up to now has existed mostly on-premise within companies, but now as I connect with other companies' databases on the cloud, my middleware cannot exist only on-premise. I need more power,” DeBarbieri says. “If you bought a car with two cylinders and 50 horsepower, you probably didn't buy it to go racing.”

Therefore, as cloud computing meshes with artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, marketing might want to ask to budget for the middleware equivalent of the Dodge Charger SRT, if not a Formula One racer. The information massed in the clouds will push “beyond infinite” in DeBarbieri's words and gluing the right pieces of data together will be impossible without AI and middleware.

“Once we move into the cognitive computing space of intelligent systems in which the accuracy level is high, you will see middleware becoming a bigger part of the cloud world,” DeBarbieri says.


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