Though the phrase "United we stand, divided we fall" harkens back to the U.S. Revolution, it has become a guiding precept for the Finnish military and a driving force behind its service-oriented architecture efforts.
Finland has created a homeland security and crisis management network called Finland Network-Enabled Defence (FiNED) that not only connects its military to police, fire and government ministries, but also to NATO, the European Union and the United Nations. According to Finnish Major General Markku Koli, SOA has become a key underpinning in the initiative.
"The most important thing is interoperability," he said. "Starting from the fact that Finland is a small nation, a militarily non-aligned nation. We have a slightly different language, a slightly different culture. That means we are always challenged in working together with other countries. Therefore interoperability is really crucial for us. We have realized nobody is alone in this globalized world and also a thing I call the military globalization is taking place. Our challenge is that if we have to follow everybody else, we realized we don't have the resources to do that. In order to be interoperable in the future, we have to do something to make that possible."
Inter-agency connectivity and global scalability have been the first parts of the FiNED initiative. Koli said the new technical architecture has enabled the Finnish Defence Forces to tackle the scalability issues in fairly short order, but that it's still difficult to get people from competing branches of the military to work together.
This is where Koli hopes SOA governance can benefit from a little old fashioned military discipline.
"I'd like to emphasize mission command. That means you need to understand what your bosses intend in order to do your work properly," he said. "Military organizations have to be flexible and quickly change for situations and adapt their actions accordingly. This is one of the basic rules that helps us in the military, but it's tough for us as well. To build this out you have to use all the means available. All the use of leadership, all the means of management and you have to have a good governance model on top of that."
Complicating matters is a mishmash of internal applications.
"Right now we have 300 different systems and 600 different vendors, small and big, mostly small," Koli said. "We're trying to reduce all of these numbers to tens instead of hundreds."
The internal drive toward simplicity is being undertaken, largely, as a response to the external complexity of the world. Not only has Finland attempted to map NATO's architecture to its SOA so that the proper communications channels can be created, but it's also finding itself involved in different regions around the globe.
"In Afghanistan, in the stabilization phase of the nations there around about 2,600 different organizations working there – military organizations, governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations – and almost all of them don't really work together a lot," the major general pointed out. "They don't share information. They may have e-mail. They may have phones and they may meet, but that's about it. If something happens which influences all the players, an earthquake somewhere, flooding, accidents, roadside bombs, whatever, they don't have the situational awareness of what's happening."
Information and coordination have become critical in theaters like Afghanistan and Koli said Finnish forces simply can't afford to wait for data to wend its way through the peculiarities of different IT systems before it reaches the proper set of eyeballs.
While the need for agile, real-time systems is immediate, Koli estimated it will take another five years to have the architecture fully mapped and until 2015 to have it all built out. He stressed the need to stay objective and the ability to adapt as FiNED continues down the service-oriented path.
"We're not expecting any big bang," he said. "That's part of the development policy we have. There's a saying that a Finn doesn't believe until he sees. We have to have results and then we build on those results and that has to be a continuous way of doing things."
The other main SOA challenge FiNED is facing is that people who truly understand SOA aren't any more common in Finland than they are anywhere else on the planet.
"The most difficult thing is to find the right people, the right knowledge and the right capabilities to do what they are supposed to do in all these efforts throughout our organization, not just on the technical side, but also on the operational side," Koli said. "You're defining processes, you're supporting experimentation, you're doing incremental development. One critical success factor is you have an extremely good head architect to do this definition work. Excellent individuals really make a difference."