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SOA momentum building

Michael Liebow looks at key announcements from the recent IBM SOA summit and discusses SOA benefits, advancements and customer needs.

The enormous amount of activity surrounding service-oriented architecture over the past few weeks has moved the adoption needle more than any previous comparable amount of time. The ecosystem for SOA is rapidly growing with each passing day, as application providers deliver SOA-enabled applications and more and more customers take steps to adopt an SOA in order to integrate business processes and technology.

IBM recently hosted hundreds of top Chief Information Officers and senior IT executives from some of the largest Fortune 500 companies for a three-day interactive session about SOA. The main focus was to share the experiences and benefits that result from linking business and technology in an SOA. The resounding theme heard from customers was first the need to obtain the skills to analyze, deconstruct and reengineer business processes, followed by the need to apply algorithms, intellectual property and open standards-based software to form SOAs that improve business efficiency and reduce costs. IBM plans to replicate the event in the next month or so for its customers in China and Europe.

A couple of significant highlights from the SOA summit that support customer and industry adoption:

  • Fireman's Fund announced that it will deploy an SOA as the foundation of its total IT transformation into an on-demand business. The main goal of Fireman's Fund is to modernize and reduce the number of applications needed to run its business while improving customer service. A key part of the $94 million contract with IBM will be sifting through Fireman's Fund's 500 applications using a process called Component Business Modeling to identify the business processes that deliver the most value to the business and which redundant or non-critical processes can be consolidated. As a result of this analysis and putting an SOA in place, IBM will help Fireman's Fund reduce the number of its applications by 70%.
  • Lawson Software announced that it has expanded its alliance with IBM and will standardize its applications on IBM software and pre-integrate and ship all future versions of Lawson's ERP applications with IBM's WebSphere, DB2, Tivoli and Rational software. Lawson has also selected IBM WebSphere as the foundation to help its clients move to an SOA.

In the numerous side discussions that took place over the course of the three-day event, three key items resonated as top of mind with customers:

An SOA is more than a collection of industry-standard Web services technology. Some IT departments have started to replace APIs with Web services as a shortcut to quickly developing an SOA on the cheap. Many of these customers have experienced some degree of failure with this approach, mainly because it lacks an SOA transition plan that links directly to the goals of the business.

Business leaders, not IT departments, must take the lead on SOA deployments. The major benefits generated from deploying an SOA include the ability for the business to be responsive. I'm not sure I'll win any popularity contests, but I steadfastly believe that IT shouldn't be left alone to prioritize the business goals that need to be achieved without business owners having a large say and eagerly contributing to the process. We even developed a technique that aligns service creation with business goals, something we call "Service Oriented Modeling and Architecture," or SOMA for short.

Incremental deployment of SOA is preferred - and will generate substantial business results - faster than a "Big Bang" approach. Customers can't afford to lose or get rid of existing technology investments and a complete rip-and-replace isn't practical. The trend is to focus on smaller projects aimed at a specific business problem, generate return on investment, and then move on to the next project. I should reinforce the point that incremental doesn't mean chaotic. There needs to be an achievable end state vision in mind, a project plan and governance structure in place, and strong business sponsorship before embarking on any full-scale project implementation, incremental or not.

I'm sure that every organization remotely interested in putting an SOA in place will find synergies with at least one, if not all, of these points. While the needle on SOA adoption has jumped a good deal in the past month, it will only continue to swing towards industry-wide adoption as companies continue to educate themselves about and implement SOAs and reap the benefits of increased efficiency and cost savings as a result of them. The adage of "do it right" the first time comes to mind. I'm not sure you'll get a second chance within your organization or from your competition.

About the Author:
Michael Liebow is vice president for the Web services division of IBM Global Services.

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