Fulfilling SOA’s Grand Promise

The grand promise of service oriented architecture (SOA) is that it will transform the IT team into a key player at the executive conference table; tying IT together with business decision-makers.

With SOA, no longer will the “techies” live by a different set of rules but instead they will be invited in to work closely with corporate management to develop a highly agile IT system that aligns more quickly and cost-effectively with overall business needs and objectives.

That’s the promise at least. But let’s face it. Business executives haven’t always had a favorable impression of IT. Their big concern with IT is cost, which tends to be in direct opposition to system agility and enhanced performance—as well as speed of development and implementation.

Many have long held the perception that the IT department is in the business of spending a lot and accomplishing little. This view has direct positive impact on a company’s bottom line. Of course, those of us in IT would argue this is a misperception, but it does exist.

As a result, many managers face a troubling paradox: either focus on agility and performance, or reduce costs.

Resolving the Paradox

SOA can help resolve that paradox, since it is an architectural style designed to achieve loose coupling among interacting software services. With a more flexible architecture based on services rather than complex infrastructure, you can have the best of both worlds—IT that is relevant for important business processes, combined with the capability to build out new applications and a much clearer path to “go live.”

Management should rethink its view of IT, and SOA, for another reason. The truth is, companies depend on IT as much as they depend on the ability to produce, sell and distribute goods or services central to their business.

That’s why smarter businesses are learning it’s imperative to provide the IT team with the tools they need to quickly respond to requests for new applications, systems or processes. This is the next big challenge for today’s enterprise. It is a matter of survival and the key to competing in a global economy.

But even with this mandate to build a unified system that can serve all departments equally, many IT departments struggle with how to “sell” SOA to management.

The most important advice in making this relationship work is to speak the language of business: You must be able to explain in business terms how IT contributes to the bottom line, streamlines processes, creates new efficiencies or reduces costs.

Simply put, SOA is the link that ties IT and enterprise needs together because it leads to agility, both from an IT and business perspective.

Inside SOA

So, how does an SOA model work? There are series of steps when IT uses SOA to design corporate IT architectures, making software resources align with business processes:

  • The business team explains to the IT team what they need to accomplish (process, etc.).
  • The IT team translates that need into a “service,” pulling from similar services already developed for other business units.
  • The teams compare the corporate requirements to the available SOA services.
  • The IT team circles back to the business units to see if they are being serviced.

    The result is a technology solution with well-defined and ubiquitous interfaces to all participating software services and easy communication among customers and services; a quick-to-implement solution that solves a business problem.

    Of course, one of the boons of SOA is in developing new services for internal clients, you are essentially building out a portfolio of plug-and-play services that can be used time and time again across the enterprise.

    Projects are no longer split between teams, systems or activities, creating a more integrated IT strategy. Another bonus: Your IT staff can spend less time “down-in-the-weeds” developing code, and more time focusing on what we like to call IT “choreography” and process logic.

    It almost goes without saying that by using components already implemented and tested elsewhere, you save considerable time in the development lifecycle, particularly with debugging. SOA also allows you to start small when risk is a concern, expand the project once the initial architecture is built, and continue the build-out based on changing service needs.

    New functionalities can be added at any time, bringing even more value to earlier projects. With this approach, you have the flexibility of dealing with business processes the same way you deal with the IT infrastructure, reusing components to align to changes in business priorities.

    Companies should consider moving to an SOA approach because it fulfills the promise of using IT to satisfy the needs of the business. SOA can significantly reduce frustrations with IT and perhaps most importantly, help executives better understand what IT does, how it does it, and its value for the bottom line.

    Lionel Carrasco is CTO of Neoris, a global IT consultancy, systems integrator, custom application developer and leader in emergent technologies. Carrasco has more than 20 years experience in IT consulting in the banking, insurance, transportation, retail, manufacturing and oil industries.

    Ton Nogueria, director of Neoris’s Brazil office, also contributed to this article.