Service-oriented architecture (SOA) and Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) are being used to tie together vertical real estate applications at Move Inc., an online service for everything from home buying and renting to the logistics of relocating.
Through mergers and acquisitions, the online service has brought together websites for customers looking for existing home sales, new homes, rentals and senior housing as well as support services such as arranging a move. "Our company is focused on the real estate business and anything to do with it," said Mike Remedios, CTO at Move Inc.
Having joined the company in the past month, Remedios is focused on what he terms "pragmatic SOA." The immediate task is to integrate a variety of acquired legacy applications to provide a single view of all the data relating to customers and their real estate transactions.
Remedios is not a neophyte to the online business world, having been CIO at eBay and Shopping.com, and served as a member of the technology board for eBay, PayPal and Skype.
The pragmatic approach that Remedios brings to SOA is to incrementally integrate legacy systems with a long-term goal of providing the online business with the agility needed to quickly add innovations to its websites.
"We are partially SOA," Remedios explained. "Like a lot of companies we have taken some of the legacy spaghetti from companies we bought and are breaking them out into various levels of granularity for SOA."
The CTO's incremental approach seeks to avoid the pitfalls of over-committing IT resources to a massive project that provides little immediate return on investment.
"We don't have one of those monolithic projects that has little business value in the short-term, and sucks up resources," he said. "As we go back and re-engineer parts of the business, we migrate them to SOA."
For the immediate task of providing a single view of the customer for Move's sales and support staff as well as for the customers themselves, the company is using the Oracle BPEL Process Manager to integrate customer data. It is also using the workflow engines in two other Oracle products, Siebel for customer relationship management (CRM) and PeopleSoft for enterprise resource planning (ERP), Remedios said.
Move needs to integrate all the legacy and new applications so they communicate with to each other and tie in to the user interfaces for the call center and websites, as well as automated and manual business processes for fulfillment.
"That's where BPEL comes in," Remedios said.
BPEL is currently being used for traditional enterprise application integration (EAI) as a first step to SOA.
The goal is to create that 360-degree view of customers starting when they are a prospect all the way through to when they are in final billing, as well as providing the sales force with a view of the customer at every stage of the process, Remedios explained.
For data services there is a customer data hub providing a unified database for data aggregation and populating individual data stores used by the front-end systems for processes such as credit card verification.
For real estate and related businesses the orchestration of business processes is different from other industries, Remedios explained. In financial services and retail transactions might be done in milliseconds, but people don't buy or even rent a house in milliseconds.
Move is using BPEL to handle "long duration transactions," Remedios said. In real estate, the purchase of a home, for example, might take 30-days to go through escrow.
In cases where the workflow engine within the application isn't capable of handling long duration transaction, a message is sent to the Oracle BPEL Process Manager, which is linked to the main message bus. The BPEL manager then monitors the transaction to makes sure it is completed and that service-level agreements (SLAs) are being enforced.
While BPEL and SOA implementation often get approved by business executives based on projected cost savings, they are far more valuable on a long-term basis because they allow for business innovation, such as updates to Web applications, Remedios said. In this way, he said, BPEL is more of a strategic rather than tactical tool.