The justification of technology as a key business driver is drawing renewed attention as executives look to build SOA to meet the needs of their dynamic enterprises.
While an SOA can go far in addressing the important security, reliability and reusability of services, SOA is nonetheless a technical approach. Thus, the challenge of SOA - and the key to achieving business value - is elevating service enablement beyond just technology functions. The reality is that an SOA has limited value unless it encompasses disparate applications and platforms, moving beyond technology to be orchestrated and controlled in the context of business processes. SOA technology and methods provide a foundation for service enablement in an orderly fashion and allow an organization to avoid the pitfalls of deploying an uncontrolled maze of services.
But from the outset, organizations face the challenge of where to start. What services are going to add immediate value? And how are they going to be used by the most important business functions? Identifying the services that are consumed by the most critical business processes in an organization can be a daunting proposition.
Thats why enterprise architecture, business process analysis and business process management are integral to effective service orientation. SOA relies on the work of EA, BPA and BPM to define, analyze and execute resources where SOA has the best effect. The result is an agile enterprise in which business models drive executable business processes powered by a portfolio of services.
By focusing on the processes, activities, events, information and services that are required to execute the business, SOA gives business owners a more direct and active role in the design of IT systems that enable enterprise agility.
The Challenge to Formally Define the Enterprise
Although its concepts and technology are based upon decades of progress in IT, SOA requires additional work to free functionality locked up in legacy systems and to promote the culture of reuse required to make effective use of that freed functionality.
SOA starts at the enterprise level of scope. At this level, an enterprise needs to rationalize the goals, measures, etc. that direct progress toward its mission. It needs to profile its core capabilities and understand which capabilities are critical to achieve its goals and what enterprise artifacts provide the capabilities. This understanding is used to direct resources to implement SOA where the enterprise needs it most.
Below the strategic view, we have the definition of how the enterprise functions. This is where we find business processes, data and rules. At this level, SOA must empower business artifacts with system functionality. The objective is to express formally how the enterprise works in its own terminology and to enable the business professional to change processes, rules and the use of data. The professional essentially changes a model of the business to effect change in operational systems.
This requires balancing simplicity against control and control against IT resource integrity. The model of the enterprise needs to be familiar to each community. It must also contain enough detail to express the changes the enterprise needs to realize. Yet this model must enforce the real-world constraints of the supporting IT components. Each component consumes time, incurs cost and has limitations on availability and frequency of use. Changes in one business process cannot be allowed to impact other business processes inadvertently. Data integrity cannot be compromised. Security measures, audits, logging and other facets of the IT infrastructure must all be preserved. In other words, the challenge is to expose enough functionality to allow the business to retool safely without losing control over the underlying IT resources.
Exposing IT functionality under SOA involves publishing services and providing the means to execute the underlying components that realize each service. Defining services properly is no easy task. The notion of function is general enough to apply to almost anything. The enterprise needs to adopt formalisms for recognizing service functions so that 1) there is sufficient coverage to support business processes and 2) the service portfolio grows in a controlled fashion and holds only those services that are truly needed.
The other critical IT challenge is to unlock functionality already implemented in legacy systems. Most legacy systems were designed with specific user and system interfaces. They were not designed in the context of an overall service architecture and thus do not provide access to the functions they implement. For example, an order entry system may provide stellar validation, approval, scheduling and routing functionality, but other than the defined user and system interfaces, there is no way to employ these functions.
IT must change these legacy systems to provide a means to tap into functions, such as order scheduling. Once the function is delineated, IT can build an adapter that exposes the function as a service. The purpose of the adapter is to provide an interface to the outside world that conforms to the protocol all services follow. The adapter looks like a service to the outside world but delegates its implementation to the legacy function.
Modeling Manages Complexity
Once the enterprise level of scope is defined, CIOs and business executives use modeling to manage the complexity of an enterprise. Enterprise-wide visual modeling enables organizations to improve their performance and competitiveness.
Four significant capabilities within modeling solutions allow for superior SOA support:
- Preservation of the business analyst's viewpoint, retaining business terms and not requiring business users to understand the technical aspects of SOA.
- Methods for the technical user to configure execution-ready business activities so they directly translate into services.
- Autocompletion feature within a service-intelligent user interface.
- Delivery of real-time verification of execution-ready status.
As a result, modeling dramatically reduces the amount of time and interaction required to transform business processes into executable functions. Business engineers can take the execution-ready activities and, at the push a button, produce a BPEL-equivalent of the model that will reference the services that implement the process. This provides a preliminary design of the structure and services, allowing the designer to work through technical issues such as security, compensation of failures and logging. Modeling is vital to SOA because SOA involves abstraction - the removal of nonessential information to achieve a succinct, easy-to-manage model of reality. SOA, following the lead of model driven architecture, uses models to enhance understanding and to effect direct change.Three types of modeling are needed in SOA: strategic, business and technical.
Strategic modeling: In the early stages of an SOA program, strategic modeling clarifies the mission, goals, inhibitors and opportunities and it profiles the enterprise in terms of its capabilities. This form of modeling is used to analyze the enterprise at a high level and target specific areas where resources should be applied over time.
Business modeling: Business modeling defines how processes, data, rules, services, organizations and resources. interact to affect business operations and maps them to the strategic artifacts they support. Process improvement (e.g., simulation, analysis, prototyping) employs the same type of models to prescribe the future and subsequently clarify the gap between the "as-is" and the "to-be" states of the enterprise.
Technical Modeling: Technical modeling is twofold - logical and physical. Logical modeling defines the technical artifacts (e.g., systems, components, databases, networks) comprising the enterprise technical infrastructure and maps them to the business artifacts they realize. It defines technical intent without binding to the characteristics of any particular technology. As with business modeling, logical modeling enables the enterprise to achieve a broader understanding of its technical infrastructure and to more effectively determine how the infrastructure will evolve. Physical modeling allows the specification of technical artifacts. It is used at the engineering level, considering details of the underlying technology. The primary benefit of physical modeling is to hide or generalize computable details and to provide a more graphical, picture-based metaphor for expressing artifact characteristics.
In the end, all forms of modeling - strategic, business and technical - provide the same fundamental benefits. A model formalizes understanding of some aspect of the enterprise. It abstracts and thus focuses on the critical properties of interest while hiding details until they become relevant. Models enhance our ability to understand and manage complexity and to communicate essential information to others. Most significant to SOA, models are leveraged to drive change. Using domain-specific terms and concepts, models present the relevant aspects of an enterprise to the agent of change. With modeling, professionals can effect the change directly via the model instead of spending time informally communicating the change to others.
The Power of BPM in an SOA Environment
After modeling and staging the strategic, business and technical aspects of an SOA program, that program can be executed with a BPM suite.
Organizations that position BPM as a core component of their SOA strategies realize more business value from service enablement as BPM helps optimize the use of the SOA across the core business processes that most directly impact executives top performance objectives, such as:
- Increased productivity,
- Enhanced customer service,
- Greater competitive advantage and
- Stronger financial performance.
BPM platforms have the ability to manage both human-centric and system-centric processes. The human-centric capabilities enable the deployment of services to business users in the form of cohesive, orchestrated business processes synchronized across the enterprise. Complementing these human-centric functions, BPM suites are available that offer a full-featured integration tool to handle high-volume, system-based processes and to leverage even the most obscure legacy applications.
Furthermore, a BPM suite removes the complexity of managing access to multiple types of services, including technical, business function and business data services, by applying these services at the appropriate points in a process. In addition, a BPM suite provides visibility and access to the complete "round trip" process lifecycle, giving organizations the ability to apply SOA concepts in process design, integration, execution, analysis and, ultimately, the improvement of these strategic processes.
SOA: A Profound Opportunity
SOA has great potential to help organizations implement programs more quickly and cost-effectively in todays demanding business environment. It achieves results that significantly benefit the enterprise:
- Agility - Rapid adaptation to changing market conditions and internal initiatives.
- Reuse - Using past work in different contexts and not reinventing the wheel.
- Uniformity - Broad-based ability to share regardless of technology or location.
The key to success for SOA is ultimately the value it can deliver to the business. SOA will have established its foothold when business professionals gain the ability to control their own processes and rules directly, as well as adapt to change rapidly and correctly. Beyond that, SOA delivers a bonus by offering a real chance for IT to deliver broad-based reuse and component-based development in a uniform technical environment.
Enterprise modeling software provides the foundation for SOA efforts with an integrated repository and unsurpassed modeling capabilities that enable organizations to capture critical components, including strategy, business architecture, data architecture, application architecture and technology architecture. This complete enterprise visibility enables critical business and IT alignment. Building upon the capabilities of modeling software, a BPM suite combines the strategic advantages of business process management with the integration technology required for SOA to effectively align IT initiatives with the strategic goals of the business user at every level within the organization. This powerful synergy of the solutions within the enterprise platform provides for unmatched SOA support, true process improvement and greater results for the business.
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