Province of Ontario, Toronto Hydro master SOAs

The province of Ontario’s CTO Ron Huxter has also been concentrating on developing solid business processes based on a service oriented architecture that have paid off despite a flatlining IT budget.

“There’s no room for the cowboys of the seventies—just responsible stewardship of the public purse,” he told a breakfast seminar hosted by IT World Canada on Wednesday. “Over the last ten years, we’ve got most of the common business practices identified. The issues that we’re coming into now are sourcing the actual services—in two to three years, SOA will fade into yet another sales banner like everything else has and it will transform into software-as-a-service,” said Huxter. And, he said, with the transition to software-as-a-service models, there is a change in cost structures and more potential security worries.

“Over the last few years, there has been a tremendous explosion in terms of the maturity of SOA,” said worldwide SOA executive Walter Falk of IBM’s Global Technology Services Walter Falk. “Those who have already adopted it are getting into more advanced services, including enterprise service buses and business process implementations.” One of the remaining challenges, however, is figuring out how to implement SOA strategies with the rest of their legacy systems, he said.

Businesses are now more often hammering out their best practices by this point, and really moving toward establishing rock-solid business processes. IBM’s own integrations are going relatively well, said Falk, although the huge number of servers, employees, and systems does make for a challenging set-up. “But, by learning how to do it on a local scale,” he said, “and helping our customers implement their own SOA solutions, we can learn from that for the bigger scale.”

The Toronto Hydro Corporation kept their SOA worries minimized by trying it out on a certain project—that of the new smart-meter roll-out in the province. CIO Eduardo Bresani decided to forgo a point-to-point solution in favour of an enterprise service bus. While it evinced some “heated discussion,” it simplified the written approvals processes that are endemic in the utilities industry, he said.

Branching out into SOA also helped, as the project required a long-term plan. Bresani drafted a three-year plan proposal (instead of one covering a single year), which made long-term integration strategies more clear-cut. “This was a key enabler for business agility, and brought improvements to productivity,” said Bresani.

SOA could be a cost-saver in the long run, too, Falk said: “Yes, it may cost more up-front, but as you expand your business applications, you’ll get to reuse benefits and benefit.”

It can also form an important foundation for the next wave of SOA-based technologies from the Web 2.0 sphere. “SOA has matured—it’s not the latest thing anymore,” said Falk. “There’s software-as-a-service, mash-ups, social tools…how do you open it up?”

These factors are becoming differentiators in the marketplace, he said, and a valuable next step for any SOA strategy. Said Falk: “But we need to find how to do this in a secure, functional, and scalable way, and the only way to deal with that is solid SOA governance.”

This will become increasingly important as the other things that go along with Web 2.0 float into the enterprise, such as cloud computing and high-scale virtualization, said Falk.

It could even be an impediment, according to Huxter, who pointed out that the security factors of cloud computing might not mesh with the many security mandates of a government organization.

“If it’s mission-critical activities…well, (use of cloud computing) really depends on what they are,” said Bresani. “You have to ask, ‘Is it capable of supporting enterprise-level applications, and what type?’

These issues also apply to open standards and open source in the enterprise. “We refer to them as ‘open sores projects,’” joked Huxter. “But it’s not because of the functionality—it has more to do with the liability, intellectual property, and insurance issues.”

Both SOA (and its Web 2.0 ilk) and open source are two valuable tools that CIOs can use for another purpose—retaining the younger generation of IT workers. “You can’t be innovative and move forward, or have that flexibility that will keep the young workers. If you don’t have it, they’ll work somewhere else,” said Bresani.

Huxton hasn’t had any problems keeping his staff, however, even without a lot of the fancier Web 2.0 or open source trappings that are rare in government. “We don’t see chasing rabbitholes as a priority; something might change overnight, and you’ll get buried,” he said. “We’ve had a phenomenal increase in our IT department, but that can be because of the social responsibility (factor of working in the public service).”

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