Using enterprise architecture (EA) and SOA to bridge business and IT

Implementing strong enterprise architecture and SOA helps support both business and software technology growth.

The job of the enterprise architect is to help an organization solve two problems: how the business can change to take advantage of technology and how technology can be organized to support the business, according to The Open Group’s (TOG) Chris Harding. Implementing and maintaining a strong enterprise architecture (EA) and, when applicable, a service-oriented architecture (SOA) can be the right way to accomplish both.

“The need for dialogue between the business and technical people has never been greater than it is now,” said Harding, director of TOG’s Cloud Workgroup Forum. SOA and EA experts shared their views about the roles of EA and SOA in enabling communication, business agility and the integrated enterprise with during the recent The Open Group Conference in San Francisco.

Fostering communication and  bringing disparate groups together is a prime directive in EA. “Business, IT and development speak different languages,” said Ed Harrington, conference speaker and senior manager for consulting firm, Architecting the Enterprise Ltd. “EA provides the translation,” he said. Shared taxonomies and a central EA model enable common documentation environments.

For example, without EA, business people would explain a need, and IT would come back with technical modeling diagrams. In an EA setting, the discussion centers on business needs and technical capabilities and is documented on a common platform.

As departmental systems come together, doing everything needed to build integration-friendly applications is quite complex.

EA also provides a unified environment for integration and connectivity between applications, services and business processes. Few organizations today use information gathered in one place and only in that one place, said Allen Brown, president and CEO of The Open Group. Cross-functional use of information is the norm, so systems must be integrated so that they can produce information to cross-functional activity. “Enterprise architecture is the bridge for how you do that,” said Brown.

 “Once upon a time, we had different silos and stovepipes through a few departments,” Brown explained. Now, applications run in holistic environments in which departmental applications are connected with other apps that handle extended services and business processes, such as manufacturing, distribution and sales. As departmental systems come together, doing everything needed to build integration-friendly applications is quite complex. 

The Open Group is seeing a rise in the number of transformation projects using EA, most often for a combined goal of cost reduction, increased capability and the ability to quickly react to the competitive business environment. One example from The Open Group’s files is a work in progress: a Canadian healthcare organization is working to stop its systems’ rapidly increasing costs.

“The rate of growth of their expenditure on healthcare has been steeper than the rate of growth of the Canadian GDP,” said Brown. The organization is examining how to reduce costs and, at the same time, improve the experience and care of patients by bringing enterprise architects together with medical experts and with healthcare organizations. EA provides a common ground and set of processes for that collaboration.

Without EA, organizations have trouble managing the mashup of business with complex software and services. In his consulting work, Harrington has seen many negative effects of not having an enterprise architecture, including:

  • Limited business agility;
  • Difficulty identifying and orchestrating SOA services;
  • Service sprawl;
  • Loss of control of governance;
  • Limited SOA service interoperability and reuse;
  • Multiple SOA silos; and,
  • Difficulty in changing SOA implementations.

Among the benefits of EA in bridging IT and business are speedier and more effective decision making; greater business agility, or more flexibility and adaptability to changing demands; streamlining processes and reducing redundancy from department to department; strong management of service usage; and improved communication about ways to meet common goals.

How SOA supports collaboration and cloud architecture

“We're all looking as service-orientation when we're doing our architectures,” said Brown. “And SOA is almost ubiquitous as the underpinning for services. It's a fact of life. That's how we do things.” SOA – a standards-based, platform-agnostic, message-oriented architecture for distributed processing -- creates a scenario in which business and IT can describe end services in the same language. That makes modeling easier.

SOA enables enterprise business agility in many ways, said Hans Schoebach, senior systems architect for HDS Enterprise Consulting and TOG event speaker. For example, SOA orchestration fosters quick adaptation to changing business processes. Also, SOA enables better communication between business and IT by modeling business processes as a composition of services and improving mapping of requirements to business processes via service contract. Like EA, SOA can lessen the risk of service failures by enabling reuse of existing service components.

SOA also supports the use of Agile development methodologies, and a key Agile principle is teamwork between business, development and IT, said Schoebach. SOA works well with Agile for several reasons:

  • SOA’s service registry gives users a clear picture of what services are available;
  • Services are documented as WSDLs;
  • SOA enables the usage of the same tools (like BPMN Editor) by development teams’ domain specialists and developers; and,
  • SOA allows testing to be done independently on the business layer.

Cloud computing is keeping SOA valuable and viable today. “Without SOA, you wouldn't have cloud,” said Brown. Harding added that business people erroneously believe that they can just buy cloud services and bypass IT. That’s not so, he said, because cloud is a technical solution, and business people don’t want and should not manage and support all the cloud services. In cloud, the business people and the technology people still do need each other, and SOA creates a common ground for their activities.

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