Last month just flew by - but then again, it was February!

In the January column, I briefly discussed the idea that service-oriented architecture (SOA) can deliver business value on many fronts. By "wrapping" existing applications and "delivering" them as services, we can extend the lives and ROI of legacy applications and reduce the costs of developing new functionality. By leveraging existing services, new applications can be deployed more quickly - enabling faster time to value and improving competitive responsiveness.

Let's take a closer look at the business value of building and deploying a service-oriented architecture. SOA moves companies from an "old world" systems architecture based on independent applications, tightly coupled together by custom messages or processes, to a new type of architecture based on independent services tied together by a standards-based messaging. SOA moves IT infrastructure from an inefficient, inflexible model - with vertical, siloed applications - to a less expensive, enterprise-wide model that delivers a reusable suite of interoperable services.

Although the idea of SOA has been around well over a decade, a new generation of infrastructure software technology is emerging that is addressing the cost and complexity shortcomings that were not possible in earlier generations. Previously disparate technologies are now pre- integrated into a consistent enterprise application platform, while also conforming to a best-practice service-oriented architecture for IT. In this new environment, the SOA is natively built on industry standards, promotes reuse and, for the first time, allows non-specialist developers to rapidly become productive developers.

Companies can now realistically achieve their business goals by implementing a best-practice service-oriented IT architecture as the foundation of their future success. Now, more than ever, IT can be a strategic business asset, along side other key assets such as employees and intellectual property. In SOA-enabled environments, enterprises can begin to bridge the fundamental gap that has existed between business requirements and IT capabilities.

How else is SOA helping facilitate strategic value? Let me count the ways!

  • Faster time to market - The core philosophy of SOA inherently promotes reuse for development and integration teams. With reuse of services and components, new applications can be quickly assembled to respond to changing market conditions or business demand. With the shortening of project time frames comes a faster response rate to changing business requirements.
  • Operational efficiencies - Most packaged enterprise applications perform well in streamlining processes related to standard tasks. However, the performance rapidly deteriorates while automating and streamlining customized processes that encompass multiple enterprise applications. The process is difficult, time-consuming and expensive to implement and maintain. SOA virtually eliminates these interapplication complexity barriers. It allows IT to more rapidly change to the needs of the business so that IT can create a culture and an infrastructure of business adaptability. In other words, SOA enables "IT that fits the business."
  • Faster, less expensive application integration and B2B integration - Implementing a traditional packaged application integration solution is expensive and complex, often requiring extensive manual coding for deployment purposes. An SOA framework provides native support for runtime deployment of services across the network and it dramatically reduces the overall costs of application integration and deployment by automating these time-consuming processes. It also allows extension of integration across business boundaries.

A SOA enables the definition of any process in any network configuration, even spanning multiple enterprise boundaries. This is done through peer-to-peer messaging infrastructure with distributed security mechanisms that allow efficient intercompany data exchanges, while enabling each enterprise to enforce its own security policies. This allows SOA to increase operational efficiency across the entire value chain.

  • Easier application development and deployment. - In the traditional software development process, translating requirements into working distributed systems is both time-consuming and difficult, requiring several stages of manual development and deployment. This complex, error-prone task can be effectively streamlined using a SOA-based development environment. Processes can be more easily translated into distributed services, which are easier to develop, manipulate, and debug; and the services are easily composed into implementation-level data flows. Further, the implementation-level services can run on any machine across the network by virtue of the built-in dynamic deployment support SOA provides. The combination of service-oriented tools for both design time and runtime dramatically reduces the time to implement and deliver working processes.
  • Leverage existing investments - Organizations have spent time and money developing their existing infrastructure. Today's dynamic environment demands new uses of systems and processes information to help enable more efficient processing and cost effective business operations. Extending the lifetimes and ROI of legacy applications by repurposing systems, processes and data from existing systems provides one means of managing cost. Exposing legacy systems as services also creates an environment that shares information and processes from systems that were previously isolated or integrated via point solutions.
  • Risk mitigation - SOA-based efforts increase the level of project success of an implementation. Through reuse of core services and processes that have been previously developed, tested and thoroughly understood, potential bug introduction is reduced. Those project team members with a stronger business background can focus on orchestration, the assembling of services into processes, workflows or applications. Others with a stronger technical background can manage the design and development of the services and underlying infrastructure. Risk management is improved from an organizational perspective with this separation of skills that enables effective allocation of resources to efficiently deliver development tasks.
  • Continuous improvement - The implementation of services and interfaces is encapsulated? and invisible to the requestor. This abstraction of the underlying implementation provides an opportunity for continually improving and optimizing the underlying code base without affecting the use of the service.
  • Increased user acceptance - This is due to the consistent look and feel among various Web services.
  • Fewer support calls - This is due to the fact that the enhanced, consistent services user interface is easier to understand than the potentially dozens of other applications a user might need to know to perform equivalent tasks.
  • Improved ROI for the overall enterprise - via 1) less duplication of functionality than typically exists in the usual collection of diverse systems in an enterprise; 2) offloading to industry-standard servers the hosting of its portal and Web services activities, typically performed by a high-cost infrastructure, has improved performance and reduced hardware costs; and better use of developers, who no longer require training on proprietary tools and APIs and can readily transfer to other projects.

The increasing implementation of SOAs is leading a shift in how computing is deployed and delivered to users. It is helping to integrate IT more closely to line of business objectives and processes. The capability to bridge traditional business silos by quickly and cost-effectively mixing and matching services, regardless of source, is the ultimate business value.
Next month, we will drill into specific areas of "Organizing for SOA" in more detail.

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