This is an article from the August 2006 issue of DM Review's Extended Edition. Click on this link for more information on DMR Extended Edition or to download this entire issue in a PDF format. 

For every service-oriented architecture (SOA) success story, there lays an abandoned SOA project stuck in one of the various stages of deployment. Underscoring the successes and challenges of an SOA is the popularized theory that 50 percent of IT projects are deemed unsuccessful. This, of course, can make embarking on an SOA strategy rather intimidating.

Still, SOAs remain at the top of the executive and IT agenda based on their ability to more closely align technology with the needs of the business. Quickly dismantling the high statistics associated with IT project failures, SOAs have shown demonstrable ROI, so much so that according to IDC, spending on SOA-related services will reach $8.6 billion this year, more than doubling last year's spending, and will grow to $34 billion by 2010.1 Further, Aberdeen Group found that nine of every 10 companies are adopting or have adopted SOAs and will exit 2006 with SOA planning, design and programming experience.2


Furthering the growth of the SOA market is the strategy's ability to pay for itself quickly. In fact, the number of opportunities for quick ROI can be surprising. For example, many organizations are unaware of the number of duplicate processes that occur in separate departments and applications, nor do they realize how much these duplicate processes are costing them. When you examine the costs and lost revenue attributable to redundant functions and duplicated efforts, you begin to see the value of centralized services as opposed to managing multiple competing and overlapping functions.

Still, some are asking, "How can SOA succeed where previous approaches have failed?" and "How do I avoid becoming a statistic?" These are powerful questions. Simply stated, a successful SOA strategy can be achieved because the standards, best practices and governance models have finally matured to the point where reuse can actually work. After all, SOA is, by definition, an architecture as well as an approach to IT that can help solve immediate business challenges.

While each company has different business needs and each industry faces its own set of challenges, common issues can lead to the failure of an SOA. The 10 most prevalent are:

  1. Lack of executive sponsorship: Before presenting how you'll ensure your company's SOA success, be prepared to demonstrate successes and failures of other companies on their path to SOA and articulate how you'll emulate proven practices and avoid pitfalls.
  2. Align the troops: Converse to overcoming the obstacle of executive support for your SOA is the challenge of aligning your organization to work and think in new ways. To do this, identify and recruit critical champions for each part of the business who will support and even evangelize the SOA efforts.
  3. Consolidate views: Eliminate the multiple views of information that are currently floating across your organization so that you are only looking at a singular, comprehensive and consistent view of the business.
  4. Reuse equals re-useful: Identify and maintain a repository of your current Web services to avoid duplication of efforts. You may be surprised how much work has already been done by different pockets of your organization.
  5. Integrate the silos: In theory, many of today's IT organizations are seeking to integrate and avoid redundancies while maximizing their current IT investments. The reality is that extraordinary efforts are being spent on trying to maintain different IT systems that co-exist but are not integrated. The penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to SOA simply does not work.
  6. Seeing the forest through the trees: Remember that an SOA is an architecture, not a combination of clumsily bundled point products that need to be force fit. A true SOA is created with an open standards-based approach through four strategic stages: model, assemble, deploy and manage.
  7. Hop on the enterprise service bus (ESB): An ESB provides the much needed connectivity infrastructure that you can use to integrate services within an SOA. Together, SOA and an ESB help to reduce the number and complexity of interfaces, enabling you to focus on your core business issues, rather than on maintaining your IT infrastructure.
  8. Step by step: When the thought of rolling an enterprise-wide SOA becomes overwhelming, remember that the best approach is to continually test and modify - roll it out first departmentally then slowly throughout the organization to identify issues while adding to your arsenal of best practices along the way.
  9. Avoid the carpe diem approach: Remember that you're not building your SOA just for today or this year. This is an organization-wide approach to aligning IT with the needs of the business and must accommodate today's needs as well as those of the future. For example, be sure to include support for mobile and wireless devices as well as ensure you have enough flexibility to support the "next big thing."
  10. Prevent the accidental SOA: Many organizations may discover that they have a healthy repository of Web services that will comprise the majority of their SOA. (Don't believe that the SOA starts and ends with a collection of Web services.) Remember that an SOA must go beyond Web services in order to support all of your business processes. It must also provide a flexible, extensible and composable approach to reusing and extending existing applications and services as well as constructing new ones.

A good example of a company creating a successful SOA and reaping its benefits is Bombardier Aerospace; following is their story.


Bombardier Aerospace: SOA Strategy Takes Flight

Bombardier Aerospace has a legacy of innovation that consolidates more than 250 years of aviation history. The company produced 14 new aircraft programs in the past 14 years. Based in Montreal, Quebec, the company has more than 28,000 employees worldwide with locations in Toronto, Wichita and Belfast.

Since competition in the international aerospace industry is intense, many aerospace companies are trying to gain an advantage by making their internal processes more efficient. Bombardier is no exception.

The company was faced with three significant business and IT challenges that led to their creation of an SOA. First, they needed to gain more visibility into their supply chain; second was the need to extend critical information to customers and partners; and third was Bombardier's need to integrate the people and processes that resulted from significant shifts in the business.

More specifically, to track products, fulfill customers' orders faster and maintain better control over the products in its warehouses, Bombardier needed its SOA to link a homegrown legacy warehouse management system (WMS) to its existing SAP system, which was deployed to manage its supply chain - everything from operations and finance to spare parts and maintenance.

Additionally, the company was faced with a lack of visibility in identifying spare parts information across multiple manufacturing lines, which often resulted in duplicate orders and shipment delays. Adding to the complexity was the fact that Bombardier had recently undergone several significant mergers and acquisitions, which resulted in various silos of information throughout the company.

In addition to addressing critical business issues through its SOA, Bombardier also established specific long- and short-term goals in order to measure its success. While saving costs and increasing efficiency were at the top of the list, Bombardier was also seeking to consolidate all information about the company as well as information about suppliers. Moreover, they needed to address "working" versus just-in-time delivery and implement cost savings through joint ordering.

Yet Bombardier didn't want an SOA that would require a lot of unique customization nor did they want to have to scrap their existing investments and start from scratch. Bombardier needed a solution that would work quickly with minimal complications after it was implemented.

At first, Bombardier planned to use only its existing SAP solution. However, relying primarily on SAP brought Bombardier the challenge of integrating point to point. In fact, it sometimes took up to 40 days to build a complex interface to connect critical pieces of information. Bombardier soon realized that they needed an integration platform that could connect to its legacy systems and external systems.

Using IBM WebSphere, Bombardier created an SOA that enables them to preserve existing investments in IT while also more closely aligning technology with the needs of the business. Through an open standards-based approach to creating an SOA, Bombardier is able to easily integrate disparate sources of information throughout the company to streamline business processes and accelerate the supply chain.

For example, using IBM WebSphere, Bombardier can now place orders through its SAP system and have its WMS instantly reflect what has been ordered and what parts are required to fill the order. As a result, the solution has significantly reduced the time required to fulfill customers' orders.

As the integration layer, WebSphere is used throughout the organization to extend its existing finance and human resources (HR) applications with critical information from various sources. This enables the company to more easily prepare for future mergers and acquisitions as well as streamline its day-to-day business processes.

Since Bombardier's SOA uses standardized integration protocols, it can be easily and quickly maintained. Bombardier can easily audit the systems' transactions to comply with its legal requirements.

More specifically, Bombardier can take advantage of dramatically reduced cycle times that results in cost savings, efficient handling of spare parts and a consolidated view of the purchasing process and supply chain. The company has been able to decrease that 40-day complex interface-building process down to 10 days and, more importantly, has realized a cost savings of between 50 to 60 percent in what was previously allocated to development, support and maintenance.

As the Bombardier project has shown, SOAs can solve immediate business problems while simultaneously laying the groundwork for flexible IT that is capable of adapting to quickly changing business conditions. Although these solutions were implemented by Bombardier to address specific business needs, the basic concepts are universal. Concepts such as reuse of existing business functions, improvement of business processes, easier application connectivity using open standards, and separation of back- and front-end systems are relevant to virtually every enterprise that uses IT.

The future success of IT will be based on how easily services can be pieced together to quickly create new business solutions. SOA, backed by robust standards, technologies and best practices, will enable this success.

References:

  1. IDC. "SOA-Based Services Buying Trends: A 2006 Survey of U.S. Companies." June 2006.
  2. AberdeenGroup. "Enterprise Service Bus and SOA Middleware." July 2006.

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