7 Steps to SOA Success

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In theory, services-oriented architecture (SOA) is no more complex than its name. The Open Group defines SOA simply as "an architectural style that supports service orientation"--a way by which you can build your business processes, a glue to hold your applications tightly together. In practice, however, this principle can be extremely complicated and confusing. Going ahead with an SOA deployment can seem as daunting as building a basement for a decades-old house. How can you lay a foundation to support something that's already built? How can you glue something together that already exists?
Despite the intimidating prospect of an SOA initiative, today more companies than ever are investing in SOA services and technologies. In its "SOA Spending Report 2007--2008," AMR Research found investment to be accelerating at breakneck speed: Fifty-three percent of companies surveyed use SOA today, more than double the 21 percent found in last year's report. An additional 37 percent of companies surveyed this year were considering going ahead with their first SOA project by 2011.
Investing in services and technology to support SOA can be costly, but part of the promise of the approach is that this outlay will quickly pay for itself in increased productivity, business efficiency, customer satisfaction, and a reduction in cost through reuse. Additionally, by investing in SOA, a company can save money over the long term by avoiding costly point-to-point integration projects that have to be repeated for every product upgrade. (See "SOA Simple," February 2006, for a more detailed look at the technology of SOA.)
Business wins garnered by applying SOA principles have been seen in countless organizations across all verticals. Look at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which saw a 2,500 percent improvement in file handling after deploying an SOA project, or Parametric Technology, a Fortune 500 software-and-services company that was able to achieve a single version of truth for its customers across all business groups in real time, using Oracle Fusion Middleware. (See sidebar, "They Did It and SOA Can You," page 34, for more detail.) However, not all companies have been so successful: Hundreds of millions of dollars will be invested in SOA in 2008, according to AMR, "much of it wasted." To ensure that your company's initiative will be best-in-class, here's a go-to guide to help you navigate the tricky business of SOA.
Despite SOA's growing popularity, confusion still swirls around what exactly SOA is. Paul Stockford, president and chief analyst at Saddletree Research, says that one of the most common misconceptions regarding SOA is that it's a product. "It isn't something you can buy off a shelf," he says. Instead, SOA refers to the principles for development and integration of applications; Web services are the set of standards which enable this.
Because of the hype and attention SOA has been receiving in the past few years, it would be easy to think it a business panacea--an architecture that once established will cure all service aches and pains. The reality, however, is messier and more modest. Companies need to understand how SOA principles can realistically apply to specific business processes before taking out the wallet. "Case studies are a great way to understand how SOA can help your company," says Ian Finley, analyst at AMR Research. Additionally, magazines, trade shows, and competitors can lend insight. Discussions with software providers are another potential resource; Finley recommends talking with a number of providers, as some may deliver a self-serving version of the concept.
STEP 2: Build A TEAM
Nearly all experts agree, one of the most crucial steps in a successful SOA project is making sure that all sides of your company communicate. Eyal Danon, vice president of global marketing for Nice Systems, calls SOA "a bridge between IT and business." The technical nature of an SOA or Web services project requires it to be undertaken almost completely by your technology department (or outside consultants), but because the very core of the project is intended to advance business processes, it's essential for senior-level executives to be on board as well.
One of the most efficient ways to do this is to create a team built of senior executives as well as top IT personnel. Michael Dortch, senior analyst at Aberdeen Group, says, "The best-in-class companies get the right stakeholders around the table, taking that executive perspective.... [Users] succeed by building SOAs to make their businesses more competitive." By establishing a cross-departmental team committed to your SOA project, you can ensure that individuals from all areas are responsible and accountable for the project's success. Depending on the culture of your company, you may want to appoint one leader or guru to champion the project.
Think of an SOA project as something out of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears": It's unwise to have a plan that's too big or too small; it has to be just right for your company's needs. An SOA initiative should be created with clear goals in mind. If these goals are not explicitly defined, you risk losing time and money investing in technologies you do not need and creating unnecessary infrastructures. But there's an equally dangerous pitfall: "One mistake some companies make is that they try to design everything up front," Finley says. "The big-bang [SOA] project is a mistake."
An effective approach to SOA is to seek out a single business area where creating a Web services--based initiative will have obvious gains. Thinking of SOA in a phase-based way will make the project easier to swallow. To locate that first business area, you must ask: What can SOA do for my company? This will differ depending on the age and complexity of your organization, your company culture, your priorities, and systems landscapes.
Because SOA helps facilitate the seamless sharing of data, an SOA initiative is only as promising as the data fueling the services. In other words, insufficient data quality can hurt your business. "In SOA, you want to maximize the sharing and reuse of resources such as customer data," says James Kobielus, senior analyst at Forrester Research. "One of the things companies tend to do wrong is that they don't consolidate their customer data down to a core corporate repository."
To create a customer data integration (CDI) repository, companies often need to invest in a master data management (MDM) tool before attempting SOA. (See "The Master Piece," January 2008, page 39, for a look at MDM.) Although many companies choose to pick up the MDM tool from their CRM vendor, Kobielus recommends considering a wide array of MDM vendors before implementing. Nearly all data-cleansing vendors have implemented Web services standards, so the ease of integration will be high regardless of software brand.
It's important to consider the nuts and bolts of your SOA initiative during the education-and-planning phase. As the number of SOA-compliant vendors increases, your options multiply. In the past, any company wishing to apply SOA principles to its business needed to do much of the IT grunt work itself. Today, however, more and more vendors offer a complete architecture, a prebuilt tool around which you can construct your SOA.
To decide the best approach for your company, the SOA team must consider your business priorities and discuss options with potential vendors. A prebuilt tool can act as a lubricant in easing deployment, and can take much of the pressure off of your IT team. Oracle, IBM, and SAP have all been leaders in the creation of these tool sets. Prebuilt SOA is of the most advantage to companies that have a history of investing in packaged applications as a means to create IT systems.
On the other hand, companies for which a more-advanced SOA can spell increased revenue should look to management tools to help them create their own infrastructure. "In bid-intensive markets where milliseconds matter, building it yourself really makes sense," says Ian Michiels, senior research analyst at Aberdeen Group. In "The Forrester Wave: Standalone SOA and Web Services Management Solutions, Q4 2007," Progress Software, AmberPoint, and IBM were cited as top-performing solutions, but it's important to examine a number of vendors to select the most appropriate choice for your company. (See the chart above for a list of the most popular products.)
Baby steps are the name of the game for a successful SOA deployment. As discussed in Step 3, it is important to identify a small project to bite off first. Points where your business faces integration challenges will show the benefits of an SOA deployment most clearly. The nature of this intersection will differ from company to company.
Careful measurement of small projects is vital to broader SOA success. Benchmarking before and after the project is necessary both to funding and success of future SOA deployments. Dortch finds that best-in-class SOA users are more than twice as likely to deploy SOA performance analysis and reporting software, and one-and-a-half times more likely to establish quality-of-service metrics and capabilities for SOA applications and services.
This means putting metrics in place that are business-centric in order to see performance enhancements and an up-tick in the number of services people use. Dortch explains that while many companies overlook this obvious step, investing in rigorous performance testing should be a no-brainer. "You do what every IT system worth its salt has been doing since the beginning of the Ice Age: replicate and scale."
For any business project, it is important to stay focused in order to gain the highest value from investments. For an SOA deployment, focus is absolutely crucial. A complete SOA integration on an enterprisewide level can take years, and benefits may take even longer to realize in full. You need to keep your designated team on task and motivated. Dortch suggests creating an incentive structure for this team based on the success of the deployment. Executives as a whole will remain behind this project if you show that SOA is delivering the business benefits they care about. "Tell them what you've done and let them connect the dots. It's a step that cannot be skipped," he says.
Vendors continue to configure their offerings to follow emerging standards as well as to develop new and different ways of enabling the creation of SOAs. In this rapidly changing space, businesses should keep an ear to the street to stay competitive and to keep abreast of new advancements. "The future of SOA is very bright," Stockford says. "Both vendors and adopters have the opportunity to leverage SOA in ways that will allow the innovative use of integrated technologies to create competitive advantages."

SIDEBAR: They Did It and SOA Can You
Two winning approaches to services-oriented architecture (SOA), and the lessons to be learned.

The New York City Department of Health
and Mental Hygiene (NYC DOHMH), the largest municipal government agency of its kind, began building its IT infrastructure on the SOA concept more than five years ago. However, multiple software initiatives and a quickly growing data registry forced SOA deployment to a standstill. "Without implementation services, our project stalled and the products were left to gather dust on the shelf," says Hadi Makki, assistant commissioner and chief software architect of the department's Bureau of Informatics and IT.
To get its SOA project back on track, NYC DOHMH partnered with Prolifics, a systems integrator. The first phase of the SOA implementation was finished in 10 weeks, and the department began to see results immediately: The SOA solution enabled better data handling, eliminated downtime common to the organization's previously implemented legacy systems, and improved file handling by 2,500 percent, thereby freeing up countless staff work hours.
NYC DOHMH has been most successful using a project-by-project strategy (see Step 3 and Step 6). In the first project, pest-control issues could be keyed into its Siebel application by a call center rep, and simultaneously saved to a data warehouse and routed to an appropriate program to dispatch a city inspector. "Using this model, the Bureau can leverage this process for future reporting," Makki says. "With the solid infrastructure in place, we are poised for our next phases of development."

Parametric Technology Corp. (PTC), a Fortune 500 software-and-services company, made the decision to deploy an SOA architecture when spotty point-to-point integrations between sales, finance, and human resources were not delivering the full data-sharing capabilities the company required. Before embarking on the SOA deployment, PTC first completed a data clean-up and conversion effort (see Step 4) which took roughly six months.
To tackle its SOA deployment, PTC adopted Oracle's Enterprise Service Bus, Business Process Execution Language, and partnered with Zanett, an
IT services company. To ensure that the effort produced real business value, PTC tied the SOA plan to a defined project: PTC integrated three types of data, uniting price-list and product data to enable sales to quote real-time prices and delivering customer data to finance and accounting. Michael Lillie, PTC's vice president of enterprise business systems, says that PTC is focused on keeping this project on track and has invested in Oracle's Siebel Analytics to measure success: "What we're focusing on now is how to measure this, how to stay on it, [and] how to report this. We're meeting every three weeks to see how we're doing." (See Step 7.)

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