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How three SOA integration projects are connecting apps, processes

SOA is a potent middleware connector. At Oracle OpenWorld, project leaders shared their experiences with SOA connecting applications and processes.

Service-oriented architectures are the glue that connects disparate applications and systems in successful, ongoing integration projects at a number of hard-charging organizations. Among these are networking equipment giant Cisco Systems, Southwestern utility powerhouse UNS Energy Corp. and ever-expanding Chilean retailer Cencosud S.A.

According to Paras Jain, senior IT manager at Cisco, a service-oriented architecture (SOA) "helps us coordinate the work we do, connect disparate systems and enable manageability from the IT and business perspective." Jain was one of three project leaders sharing case studies in an Oracle OpenWorld session titled "Successful application integration and SOA projects." Joining Jain was Roger Brown, UNS enterprise application manager and Fabio Ravagni, regional manager of architecture integration and application development at Cencosud.

Services, not systems, at UNS Energy

A tight economy, customers' demands for information and regulatory requirements to increase renewable energy spurred UNS Energy to move to a Web services-based infrastructure, said Brown. Project goals included a reduction in manual processing, better business-to-customer marketing for greater revenue and a website positioned for growth in demand-side management and Smart Grid capabilities. The means to those ends include the following:

  • An Internet portal redesign to improve customer experience;
  • The automation of business processes;
  • Middleware business services;
  • Improved business logic and intelligence; and
  • Cross-training staff

Oracle middleware, largely executed through Java, is the ongoing project's primary building block, said Brown. Foremost is Oracle SOA Suite 10g, which sets the stage for bringing in new services and keeping architectures innovative and current without replacing legacy investments. Integrating SOA brought service management, orchestration and a foundation for change, Brown said.

Implementing SOA Suite 11g is on the docket for this year, he added.

Other Oracle middleware components included the following:

  • Oracle Service Bus (OSB), for streamlining business logic processes by virtualizing service endpoints and performing routing.
  • Oracle Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) for real-time customer transaction monitoring, and the automation of manual business transactions with Oracle Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) Process Manager. Brown noted that BAM requires program execution, so preplanning is necessary to get the benefits of real-time reports on customer requests and the ability to report on manual requests.
  • XML Application Integration (XAI) Services, a component of the Oracle Utilities Framework, facilitates Oracle Customer Care & Billing (CC&B) business logic. "With XAI, we had zero application customization and configuration changes," said Brown.
  • Oracle Fusion for middleware development made it easier to resolve performance and coding problems, and easier to scale, than working within the ERP application.

In previous projects, UNS Energy had used an enterprise service bus (ESB) without success. "We had struggled with ESB in previous projects," said Brown, citing problems with increased overhead and complexity. In this initiative, OSB has worked well, helping to decouple the Web, SOA and CC&B integration components, he said.

A key is reusing more of the services we have.

Fabio Ravagni, manager, Architecture Integration and AD, Cencosud

Hiccups in the project have included staff resistance to so much process change and some performance challenges associated with scaling the site, Brown said. The particular Sun workstations UNS used successfully in other projects flunked here, posing configuration problems, among others. "We found that our developers needed more self-sufficiency and flexibility," said Brown. "Linux development workstations provided both, and I recommend using them."

The services approach has enabled easier deployment. "We can deploy to any environment without changing plan files or configuration variables," Brown said. Packaging Java deployment in an archive has also been successful for source code repository uses and better change control processes.

The early results for this project are promising and include a change from 2,000 monthly manual service order requests to 1,500 automated requests. Website visits have increased by about 13% and visit duration by 33.58%, while bounce rates went down about 13%.

Now that a solid SOA infrastructure is in place, growing UNS websites will be easier in the future. Services developed during this project are being reused. For example, UNS is currently enhancing its Web self-service capabilities and B2B partner integration, the latter to collaborate on renewable energy.

New initiatives call for Oracle Virtual Directory and Oracle Internet Directory for identity consolidation and centralization and replacing more point-to-point interfaces and new interfaces with SOA.

Standardizing on SOA integration at Cencosud

A huge retail conglomerate with more than 100,000 employees in five South American countries, Cencosud must process tremendous volumes of data and is constantly adding more. "We have a continual expansion strategy," said Fabio Ravagni.

Applications, IT platforms and the skills of IT and development teams differ from country to country in Cencosud's fold. "Supporting and maintaining our existing installed base are difficult," said Ravagni. So are managing and implementing the product backlog.

Cencosud embarked on a move to service-based systems. "A key is reusing more of the services we have," said Ravagni. The initiative called for standardizing on a foundation architecture, services design and a canonical model, as well as on common ways to handle exceptions, errors, the visibility and the traceability of processes.

Like UNS, Cencosud used the Oracle middleware stack, including OSB, BPEL Manager, BAM and Oracle Data Integrator. The first implementation is an SAP application connected to legacy systems as part of a BPEL-based BAM workflow, with the integration largely centered on OSB. A transport, known as SOA Direct, connects some OSB traffic with Oracle's SOA services.

So far, the initiative has delivered simplified integration modeling and increased integration governance, said Ravagni. More than 400 services are in production, and 30% of the services that are developed are also reusable. The new homogeneous integration platform facilitates building more reusable services with a single point of configuration, as well as the monitoring of file-based integration. Indeed, there are more than 20 ongoing projects that use the new integration platform.

These favorable results are largely due to a steadfast implementation strategy for well-planned and user-validated requirements, said Ravagni.

Expanding business process orchestration and enabling regional transaction monitoring and error management are among the next steps in this project.

Integrating WebEx and Cisco ordering

Acquiring WebEx in 2007 gave Cisco a strong Software as a Service (SaaS) offering, according to Jain. There were downsides, however, such as the companies' disparate ordering systems, which slowed down and fostered mistakes in WebEx SaaS provisioning.

"The process for service fulfillment has been highly manual," said Jain. "It took multiple sources of data to compile order data for the operations team." Each order took one person one to two hours to complete.

Essentially, the two ordering systems were connected only by email. Orders for WebEx were entered into the Cisco Ordering Tool, which registered the service order and created a provision detail form. The order details were manually emailed to WebEx Order Management (OM). An OM rep looked up order details via reports, matched site details, consolidated the data and entered them into WebEx's OM system, which fulfilled the order.

To create automated joint order ability, Cisco used the Oracle SOA Suite and BPEL for connective billing, provisioning and Oracle Business Suite tools. This middleware architecture also facilitated the integration of Cisco Ordering hardware, Advanced Technical Services and software with WebEx SaaS product ordering.

In the new system, said Jain, Cisco's ordering tool automatically creates a detailed order form with provisioning and sends the consolidated order information to WebEx. With automated data gathering and fewer manual touch points, the risk of errors and delays is reduced dramatically, he said. The time to process orders is cut in half, while duplicate and incorrect orders are minimized.

Best of all, Jain said, the higher visibility into the order process has improved business and IT alignment. Going forward, Cisco will reuse this new SOA integration platform to build other services.

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