There are no shortage of articles about the power of service-oriented architectures (SOAs), each with benefit claims of business agility, reusability, cost efficiencies and reduced business risk. SOA will have a real impact on how IT supports the business moving forward. But before that happens, we must address how services will be consumed by business users. Just like telecommunications and cable companies who must address the “last mile” of connectivity into their customers’ homes, so must SOA vendors and SOA-enabled enterprises consider how their own services affect end users. The last mile of SOA will ultimately define the legacy of these services and their impact on the business.

 

The common method for delivering new services to business users is via a Web application, portal or rich Internet application. There are no shortages of technologies available that help enterprises construct such applications for delivering services functionality. If your intention is to service-enable every application and every bit of business logic and deliver all services through a Web-based application, you’ll face a Herculean challenge. For the vast majority of enterprises, that journey is an extremely long and costly one, if not impossible altogether. The reality is that there are many legacy applications that are not well suited to participate in a SOA environment either because the source code is not owned and otherwise available; the original developers who wrote the business logic have long since retired or left the company; or the knowledge of the underlying software language is no longer available. Yet, a significant amount of an enterprise’s business logic, developed and refined over years of use, remains tied up in these applications.

 

Many organizations are planning to roll out new services in a Web application of some sort while also keeping a number of legacy applications in place. This is a very reasonable and iterative approach to achieving SOA benefits. But, from a business user’s perspective, this is far from ideal. Not only must the business user learn and use the new Web application(s), they must also use all of the older applications as well. And it’s highly unlikely that they will be integrated. In other words, the silo of applications accessed from a business user’s desktop just gets bigger.

 

An increasingly popular alternative is to build composite applications, or enterprise mashups, that provide a common user interface for delivering both Web services and legacy application functionality. This is an extension of the Web 2.0 concept of a mashup extended beyond the limits of just Web applications to include additional platforms such as Java and host applications. Some vendors, like OpenSpan, now even enable desktop-based applications such as Windows (WIN32) to participate, including Microsoft Office applications. These solutions are especially valuable for enterprises or groups that need to improve productivity for groups of users who work on repetitive, process-oriented tasks and require frequent use of multiple applications to complete tasks – such as customer support contact centers.

 

Another option is to deliver services functionality through existing application user interfaces. In other words, don’t change the core applications that your business users rely on; simply extend these applications by delivering new Web services functionality.The benefit of this approach is that it virtually eliminates the need to re-train your business users while also helping to cross any cultural hurdles related to end-user adoption. Remember, as powerful as modern applications can be, their value to the enterprise will still be dependent upon business users accepting and adopting them.

 

OpenSpan recently had the good fortune to work with a very large bank that created a number of Web services related to a series of new programs that they planned to offer to high value clients. Their challenge was to figure out how to deliver these new services to the tellers in their thousand plus branches throughout the country.In effect, their tellers are their “last mile” from a technology perspective (or “first mile” from a customer interaction perspective). The teller’s core application was a 25-year-old DOS application that contained all of the necessary business logic for day-to-day business. It was also very well entrenched within the teller organization. The IT organization quite simply didn’t think they could jump over the cultural hurdles that come with replacing a well-known application. The tellers simply wouldn’t support such a decision. Remember, their job is not to adopt new technology and learn new applications; their job is to service their customers on the front lines.

 

The bank chose to deliver the new Web services functionality through the existing DOS application; effectively extending a 25-year-old application to deliver new Web services created specifically to aid a teller in identifying a high-value client and the appropriate program offer. Now when a teller is engaged with a high-value client, they are alerted via a pop-up window within their core teller application that contains a customized bank promotional offer.For example, if the client has purchased six-month certificates of deposit (CDs) in the past, their offer may be tied to a promotional campaign for CDs of a similar time period. Additionally, all win/loss data is collected and automatically routed to the corporate marketing organization for up-to-the-minute reporting on program effectiveness. This bank was thus able to benefit from new programs created by the bank’s marketing organization that were supported and delivered by the SOA work created by the bank’s IT organization, without negatively impacting the tellers.

 

The purpose of this editorial is not to recommend one technology approach over another.The good news is that there are a number of useful technologies that can aid in the deployment of SOA-based services to business users. The point is simply to illustrate that we must not look at SOA as a one-way push to users. We must also address adoption considerations and the impact that SOA will have on the ultimate business users within the organization as they are truly the last mile of SOA.

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