Despite all the talk that the recession has left service-oriented architecture projects on the shelves, IBM Corp. said that most projects are still moving along. The key to success, according to Big Blue, is that size doesn’t always matter.

The theme of this week’s IBM’s Impact 2009 conference in Las Vegas has been working smarter through emerging and interconnected technologies. To highlight this, the company officially launched a new internal cloud deployment appliance that can roll out SOA and WebSphere apps in “private cloud,” which it dubbed CloudBurst.

But in the midst of this cloud computing buzz, company executives spent much of their time stressing the benefits of service-oriented processes and why companies must continue investing in the philosophy during the foundering economy.

“What is rising to the top now are projects with short payouts,” said Steve Mills, senior vice-president and group executive at IBM Software. “Two- or three-year ROI investment targets have scaled back to short, incremental ROI targets.”

The poster child for this new SOA philosophy might just be Standard Life Insurance, a company that has been on the SOA bandwagon for nearly a decade.

Russell Irwin, group technology strategy and assistance manager at the firm’s Scotland-based offices, estimated that the company has saved more than US$40 million in development costs since 2004 via reuse services. Irwin calculates the savings by putting monetary value on every instance of service reuse.

“It’s all about measuring everything,” he said, adding that it is the only way to ensure your company will have strong executive support.

“Your SOA story should strongly appeal to those interests and you should emphasize the commercial advantages every chance you get,” he said. That means that instead of embarking on a long-term project and trying to build “one service to rule them all,” IT managers should pick a specific service that will allow them to demonstrate benefits and recruit advocates quickly. It should also be a service that will be used with some degree of regularity, he added.

For the insurer’s IT staff, SOA allows the company to utilize its legacy databases by adding front-end functionality to these useful systems. For example, Standard Life’s pensions databases have a long shelf life, and using SOA to harness this data without scraping the whole system has saved the company bundles.

“You don’t want to service enable everything and hope to get value,” said Tom Rosamilia, general manager of application and integration middleware division at IBM’s software group. “It’s about paying as you go.

“Russell started small with quick wins and quick returns, (using SOA) where he thought it could get value.”

According to Sandy Carter, vice-president of SOA, business process management and WebSphere with IBM, SOA customers grew 28 per cent year-over-year in 2008. The biggest difference in the numbers from previous years, she said, is “smaller projects and smaller companies” is the new order of the day.

Mills agreed, saying that SOA will continue to flourish as a way for companies to optimize their business processes.

“Nobody gets up with the idea that they want redundant IT assets,” he said. “You don’t want to acquire more IT for the sake of IT. You want to know how to run a business more effectively.”

Mills said there is no alternative to the SOA concept. “It doesn’t matter if the buzzword is SOA, business process integration or anything else. It all leads to the same place.”

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