There’s nothing simple about SOA

The more you look under the covers of Services Oriented Architecture (SOA), the more you’ll realize how difficult it is to make it real.

That’s likely what a great many attendees were thinking during Computerworld Canada’s recent Technology Insights series discussion at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel on May 22. Many in the group of more than 40 invited IT professionals probably thought they were coming to hear a how-to discussion of SOA as a technology and set of applications, which they might look to introduce to their own computing environments.

What they quickly discovered was that it’s not nearly so simple. SOA is an idea that defines a way to build computing environments and platforms that let businesses consolidate IT and utilize information and data across many processes and applications. SOA isn’t so much technology as it is an approach to your IT.

SOA may appear to have lost some lustre as an important trend because it’s not so simple to show it off. You can’t just go out and purchase it. SOA is ongoing and starts small then slowly grows as a company begins with a simple pilot, achieves a measure of success with it, and then looks to enhance the SOA function or add other applications and processes to the mix.

In theory, SOA will tie everything together – data repositories, computing functions, applications and hardware – to achieve interconnectivity, integration, efficiency and ultimately a much richer computing capability. But, as the Royal York attendees learned, be prepared to take a long and hard road with SOA. Guest speakers from IBM Canada revealed there are good reasons to ponder going down the path. Think of SOA as the engine and underpinning for your business process management (BPM).

Peter Beggs, a WebSphere BPM specialist with IBM Canada, talked about the importance of achieving greater business “agility” through BPM. Agility in this case means the ability for your company’s business processes to react to and changing with market conditions.

Therein lies one of IT’s greatest and most fundamental challenges. Systems, applications and processes are often “siloed” and disparate, driven and supported by singular supporting architectures. Change is taboo when it comes to IT, and typically achieved with great difficulty or not at all. Successfully implemented SOAs improve how you design, manage and optimize your business processes by enabling solution building efficiency and asset reuse, says Beggs.

The devil is in the details, of course, and you can’t simply create a flexible BPM environment overnight. You begin modestly and move slowly. Perhaps with time and patience you achieve your SOA objectives, assuming you clearly understand these goals.

There is at least one good reason to consider SOA. IT World Canada’s 2008 research from our annual State-of-the-CIO survey of more than 230 IT senior executives shows, “integrating and/or enhancing existing systems and processes,” is the top technology priority for most respondents. That’s what SOA is all about – creating an integrated set of systems and processes.

The greatest challenge in the SOA battle may be to rally support within the organization. You can’t understate the importance of senior management and overall business buy-in to the near- and long-term SOA plan. As Beggs told the Technology Insights audience, “think of SOA as a mindset or style of design, not as a product or technology.”

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