Achieving successful SOA adoption
By Dr Derek Kiong | 2008-07-29
DHL is a typical example of a large multinational organization. While it is managed as one group, it exhibits different operating models depending on the country within which it operates. SOA has played a big part in enabling IT systems to rely on common shared services, yet also allow for customization according to country differences through appropriate governance, architecture and technology leadership.
SOA development is driven by business objectives in an organization; and where possible, leverage on existing IT business systems for software reuse. Each SOA project is unique due to diversity in organizational structure, culture and diversity of IT systems. Enterprise IT systems could range from traditional development systems such as J2EE or Microsoft .NET with other applications such as SAP, ERP or customized CRM packages. Organization structures and culture could dictate how well integrated systems support business processes across divisional boundaries.
Yet, there are common characteristics of successful projects such as formal governance with top-management support on enterprise architecture, adoption of technologies and standards across the enterprise and an enthusiastic technical team who have been bought into the SOA vision and is open to learning and progress through the SOA journey.
SOA adoption ranges from ad-hoc adoption that occurs at the project-level by using SOA technologies but without central planning or coordination, to a program-based adoption where SOA evolution is controlled in accordance with enterprise strategy and goals. In the former, a new business unit might be launching a new service subscription scheme and the required IT system might be developed without consideration for other business units. As for the latter, an in depth study might be performed as to decide how the supporting IT systems of various business units might more effectively communicate through SOA. Any benefits of new services with the ad-hoc approach would likely be short-lived since there is no central planning, direction or governance. A planned and directed SOA adoption strategy avoids propagating SOA bad practices. There would be processes and guidelines that support desirable and measurable outcomes.
Within the program-based adoption approach, the program-based organic SOA adoption model relies on a quick understanding and alignment of key business drivers with SOA objectives, followed by the execution of a pilot project. The organic approach allows incremental benefits to be achieved. There is a reduced risk since expenditure on the infrastructure is on a project basis. It is anticipated that value can still be realized without a comprehensive SOA strategy. OCBC Bank in Singapore has started on its SOA journey driven by the need to integrate its diverse systems. This is an opportunistic approach where the integration project is driven and implemented according to SOA principles.
The program-based strategic SOA adoption model defines a future state incorporating technology transformation, organizational and process changes with a planned roadmap for SOA implementation. This strategic model involves building a supporting infrastructure for the SOA with a reference implementation project which demonstrates the recommended use of standards, best practices and relevant guidelines.
More complexity, more value
The value of SOA is in standardized implementation of services to allow for reuse of services. Thus, it follows that SOA ROI is not achieved for small projects or small organizations. Organizations such as banks and financial institutions will have sufficiently complex systems to benefit from SOA. Further, multinational corporations with offices around the globe relying on common services and business rules will also benefit from SOA. But, it is unlikely that small/medium enterprises (SME) will benefit from it.
Organizations embarking on SOA must recognize that SOA is not about adopting a set of loosely-coupled technologies such as web services. Instead the most important aspect is aligning SOA objectives with business drivers. Without business alignment, exposed services are likely not to be reused to its full potential.
Apart from business alignment, the SOA initiative must have the appropriate management support from top management and also have enthusiastic buy-in from the development team. The development team must receive all the required training to appreciate the benefits of the SOA initiative and derive the value of their efforts in service reuse.
The benefits from a successful SOA implementation is agility to modify the IT system corresponding to changes in the business environment such as incorporating additional business rules, improve time to market, improve operational efficiency through judicious use of automation, or even creating new product offerings or new channels of business. It will enable a business to stay competitive in a harsh business climate.
SOA vendors at hand
According to Steve Garone, a former IDC group vice president, founder of the AlignIT Group, and an independent industry analyst, companies are increasingly turning to SOA technologies to solve classic application integration problems. A broad variety of tools and standards are emerging in the SOA market, Garone said, but vendors generally fall into three categories:
- Platform vendors, which are building SOA functions into broad platforms.
- Tools vendors, which focus specifically on SOA, Web services and enterprise service bus technology.
- Infrastructure vendors, which are building SOA and Web services functions into their technology suites.
Like many IT projects, the vendor choice depends on a company's specific requirements, goals and existing technology environment, Garone said. Solving a particular business or integration problem with Web services can be a good way for companies to jump-start the process of moving toward an SOA. Getting started with SOA technology sooner rather than later may accelerate competitive advantages enabled by the architectural approach, he added. But companies need to think strategically.
"If you're going to migrate and grow the SOA presence in the organization up from that initial project, you need to take a global view of the breadth and variety of resources throughout your organization that are going to have to be integrated down the line," Garone said. \
Dr Derek Kiong is program director (Technical Curriculum) at Institute of Systems Science, National University of Singapore