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SOA World Feature: SOA as a Business Strategy

Agility is the name of the game

Applied Blueprints
A blueprint and the traceability it includes have a direct impact on ensuring that the right reusable pieces are produced. Continual requirements gathering coupled with prioritization facilitates the right discussions around which components really will provide the maximum ROI. Like change, requirements come from all over the enterprise. An inventory of existing components and processes, sometimes referred to as the "as is" model, helps establish the current state of the enterprise. This enables tools such as maturity models to be applied as part of the gap analysis referred to earlier to couple goals with needed changes.

A blueprint will expose business process patterns that also can be reused, making the subsequent iterations of the blueprint and development easier with faster return and less risk. The blueprint business objectives guide your architecture while identifying business processes, and the patterns within them guide the design and priority of components. Existing assets identified in "as is" models can be examined against modeled processes to determine if they need to be refactored to support the "to be" states.

While SOA is an architectural approach, it typically resides in the technical domain. A major positive impact of the SOA movement has been the acknowledgement that what affects business affects IT and, conversely, what affects IT affects business. Many maturity models now include dimensions such as organization and funding. With an emphasis on reuse, there must be consideration of the organization and funding that support development, purchasing, and support of reusable components. This is a different model than siloed organizations using siloed applications.

While some organizations with centralized IT may be well positioned to follow this model, other organizations with more distributed structures face additional challenges. Often public sector organizations are distributed based on the services they provide, e.g., law enforcement and court administration. A blueprint has the capability to identify these potential adoption challenges and integrate the functions. For example, an integrated justice information system based on a blueprint can help police learn about outstanding warrants in different jurisdictions, and that can make it easier to prevent crimes by identifying offenders more readily.

By bridging various horizontal disciplines, a blueprint helps expose the gaps between vertical interests while creating an opening to reduce risks and capitalize on opportunities.

How Do You Measure Success?
It would be easy to look at the architectural diagrams of an IT infrastructure, count the number of Web services that were developed, look at how many are reused, and declare your SOA journey a success. Perhaps from a technical perspective it has been a success. But the real measure of success is the increasing ease of executing the next iteration from your blueprint. That is true agility.

It becomes easier because you are recognizing patterns in your processes. It is easier because you find that, from the previous iteration, you increasingly have the right component services in your arsenal. It is easier because you are positioned to understand how to purchase and integrate services you need. It is easier because you invested in externalizing the business logic for processes you anticipated changing and now those new requirements can be achieved without recoding. If it's not getting faster and easier, you may have adhered to the technical design principles, but are likely missing the real return promised by the SOA enabler.

A blueprint provides a foundation to get started, objectives on which to structure an iterative plan, and a basis against which to measure success at the business level. It provides a foundation against which all the elements of SOA adoption can be applied: technologies, governance, and iterative improvement.

You probably could evolve your enterprise to SOA without a blueprint, but it would be like attempting to build a house without its architectural equivalent. You may end up with a kind of Winchester Mystery house - many years of construction, lots of nice but unrelated features, staircases that lead nowhere, and lots of features based on superstition due to bad or misunderstood premises and assumptions.

More Stories By Anthony Gold

Anthony Gold is vice president and general manager, Open Source Business, Unisys Corporation. He is also a board member on the Open Solutions Alliance (OSA). He serves as a business consultant for several startups in the Philadelphia region and is writing a book on how businesses can transform themselves leveraging open standards and services-oriented architectures. Anthony graduated from Drexel University with a bachelor of science in electrical engineering.

More Stories By James Irwin

James Irwin is an open source software architect at Unisys Corporation. He has degrees and work experience in both the computer science and psychology fields.

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