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IBM packages SOA best practices for verticals

Big Blue's new asset-based services will help customers with specific aspects of an SOA, including planning, design, implementation and management.

Companies seeking to implement SOA best practices may have to look no further than IBM Global Services (IGS). Big Blue's consulting division last week unveiled four new services to help customers map industry-specific business processes to their existing technology investments.

IGS' new asset-based approach will help customers with specific aspects of an SOA, including planning, design, implementation and management. Drawn from IBM's experience in past projects, asset-based services encapsulate best practices, tools and code modules into reusable business components.

"There's a high degree of similarity across a given industry," said Michael Liebow, vice president of Web services and service-oriented architecture (SOA) for IGS.

These similarities are encapsulated in what IBM refers to as component business models, an industry-specific set of high-level processes and systems that can be implemented in an SOA.

The four-stepped approach shows companies how to implement component models created using IBM's service-oriented modeling and architecture (SOMA) methodology. In January, IGS unveiled SOMA to help companies define their component business models through a specific set of architectural and modeling best practices.

"SOA helps you de-compose business components, isolate the processes and do some service modeling," Liebow said. "But you don't just instantiate a business process as a service, you also look for points of improvement in that business process and what other information needs to be integrated so that you can align it with the business goals."

Although there may be business components that are typical to an industry, what differs is the degree of strategic value each company derives from them, according to Liebow. To address this, IGS also introduced its Application Value Optimization (AVO) services, which helps companies assess, transform and manage their application portfolios on a continual basis.

For instance, a company may find that some of its systems lack support for a particular IT component, or that there's redundant functionality across systems.

One of IGS' customers was a large telco that made several acquisitions and ended up with six different billing systems. It had to integrate the redundant applications before it could actually receive some value from those purchases.

"If you deploy an SOA, you can create a service layer to integrate those six different billing systems and deliver the 'virtual bill' that they've been asking for," Liebow said. But creating a service layer is just a temporary solution. The next step is figuring out how to get rid of some of the underlying redundancies by cleansing, restructuring and sun setting some of these applications, using AVO.

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As companies start building out their SOAs, major application platform vendors are helping customers to make the transition through new programs. In January, BEA Systems Inc. expanded its SOA practice and created an SOA Readiness Self-Assessment Tool, shortly after IBM unveiled SOMA. Also, just last week, SAP AG unveiled the Enterprise Services Architecture Adoption Program to help its customers create SOAs using NetWeaver.

Although IGS has started to codify its knowledge of industry-specific best practices into packaged software applications, companies will still need to customize these packages in order to add their own unique business processes or integrate them into existing systems. Growth in the area of SOA professional services is testimony to that fact that "best practices" in the form of software will never entirely replace the need for consultants.

"Since architecture is comprised of best practices, methodologies and disciplines, software must be reinforced with consulting to make it successful in the enterprise," said Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst at ZapThink LLC, of Waltham, Mass.

In fact, many vendors are in the process of building out their services in this area, he said.

"We should definitely expect to see the same bulking-up of services offerings from other vendors such as Hewlett-Packard, BEA, Oracle and Microsoft," Schmelzer said.

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