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Up and away with SOA: service-oriented architecture (SOA) is a current technology rage. Its goal is to make IT integration faster, more effective and cheaper, while using existing tools.

If you hear the letters "SOA"' and think somebody is spelling "soap," odds are that you're in finance and not information technology.

SOA, or service-oriented architecture, is one of the hottest buzzwords in IT today, and it's been gaining traction steadily as an open industry standard that vendors are anxious to incorporate into their applications. It's an integration framework that offers a series of benefits: it helps applications talk to each other; it simplifies integration of disparate systems after a merger; and it saves (or even eliminates) a lot of programming time and costs.

"Can you imagine the VP of finance saying, 'We don't have to scrap everything. Let's take our capabilities and integrate them, and allow the various applications to talk to each other,'" says Suzanne Fortman, marketing manager for Cincom Smalltalk, a software development suite offering features that facilitate SOA. Smalltalk was created by Cincinnati-based Cincom Systems Inc., a provider of business process application development products.

One way to think of SOA is as a kind of integration "glue." In a white paper developed by Pervasive Software, SOA services are described as "self-contained, reusable, application-based units of work.... They can include business functions, transactions or system service functions. Examples might be Show Balance, Check Inventory, Place Order or Receive Shipment."

It's common for vendors in the space to use terms such as "tiers" and "layers." Robert Hamer, chairman and CEO of Primitive Logic, a San Francisco-based business services technology provider, says that tiers are what users see, often expressed in terms of business services, such as "authorize payment" or "bill customer;" layers are the components of the architecture that support those services.


As an architecture that builds off existing technology plumbing--Web Services and Java technology--SOA doesn't require expensive new enterprise software. This means that organizations can build or modify applications quickly, and can reuse the "building blocks" (the services within SOA) to create new applications. SOA "allows you to build standard presentation services across the width of your portfolio," says Hamer.

In contrast, legacy enterprise application integration, or EAI, "lacks the flexibility required to address the two basic integration challenges of variety and change," Pervasive says. "Legacy EAI has not proved to be scalable, economical or efficient for today's enterprises."

Business process management, or BPM, applications, have flourished in recent years, especially at large corporations attempting to extract maximum value from disparate enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. BPM implementations, however, "can flounder on the variety problem--often spilling out generated code skeletons that need to be filled in by expert developers with thousands of lines of custom code," Pervasive says.

"To compound these problems," the white paper adds, "IT infrastructure invariably changes, the BPM diagram no longer matches the underlying code, so the BPM product requires revision, redesign and recoding."

Still, experts say that an enterprise architecture based on SOA, addressing high-level business flows, simply isn't enough. "Business process projects that attempt to directly marry process to application and system interfaces are destined to fail," the Pervasive paper maintains. "A more pragmatic approach is to use line-of-business-driven projects that solve a specific business integration problem. Essentially, this is the true value of SOA."

"It's a framework. You're building applications where you can share data, and standardize," says Cincom's Fortman. "The layer gives you the ability to create that standard. It gives you the ability to see your system from one single view. You can see how the financial applications are running, how CRM [customer relationship management] is running; they can all communicate with each other."

"The beauty [of SOA] is that everyone wants to say that we have our own special sauce" for improving technology, Fortman adds. "But what was starting to happen was that applications couldn't communicate. This opens up that communication and allows your systems to work more efficiently. There's no need to throw away legacy systems."

Primitive Logic's Hamer says that Microsoft emphasizes the Web Services format for SOA, while IBM Corp. and BEA Systems Inc. are more "Java-centric." "But the framework can accommodate both," he says. "We want to take the 'religion' out of it. We want senior managers to relate to the process, not the technology." Adds Primitive Logic's chief operating officer, Kevin Moos, "If you're a developer, you shouldn't have to worry about what about code you're writing in."

Many of Primitive Logic's clients are financial services providers. The component-based architecture it developed for those customers evolved into SOA, Hamer says. "We found that when we were implementing solutions for lines of business, many of the components were the same." Retail banking and mortgage businesses, for instance, have a lot of similar features, he says. That means that components could be built once and reused, and readily scaled up as the company grows--for instance, providing a channel for Internet banking across multiple lines of business within a banking organization.

That kind of development is critical in a merger-happy environment like the one banking has been in for decades. "SOA's ideal fit is through M & A, where you have so many legacy systems, and new systems, that don't necessarily talk to one another," says Fortman.


Of course, a central advantage to SOA is understandable to everyone, especially finance: it can save money. Fortman says that may come in the form of reduced training, since IT doesn't have to be retrained on new applications, as well as greater efficiencies and lower programming costs.

She adds that there is likely to remain an initial upfront assessment process and implementation of the SOA layer, which probably involve consultants' time. But at that point, the company may find that "current engineers could use the technology. You're not having to replace the current technical staff, and you're not having to reeducate them."

Hamer says that while one client claimed it had completed its project in half the budgeted time and cost, Primitive Logic doesn't try to sell companies on cost-saving strategies. He prefers to call it "managing costs," adding, "The reality is that there is capital investment. You may save in one area, but spend more in another. But managing costs allows you to be in control of that investment."

About half of the company's clients come through the business side, rather than IT, he says, and Primitive Logic does "a lot of front-end work with business and leadership teams."

What the Future May Hold

"The market at large is embracing the concept of SOA to such a degree that it could inevitably leave a mark on IT environments for many years to come," observes Sandra Rogers, director for Web Services Software and Integration at IDC Corp. Spending on Web Services is expected to leap from $1.1 billion in 2003 to $11 billion by 2008.

Vendors have realized that it's in their best interests to push their SOA capabilities. Cincom's Fortman says that business managers there have been urged by the CEO to explain how SOA is integrated into their offerings. Softrax, a software company that provides enterprise billing and revenue management solutions, has built off its Web Services product, Softrax Business Intelligence, to expand its Softrax SOA and establish it as a framework for product development.

"The Softrax SOA leverages the business process execution language (BPEL) standard, which further simplifies interoperation and process integration with ERP, CRM and other enterprise applications," the company said in an announcement. As a result, the product "enables business processes to drive application logic and data flows across the enterprise more efficiently, with little or no programming."

Hamer emphasizes that companies should treat SOA as a "just-in-time" type of process with rapid payback. "Quick wins are important," he says. "You really should start seeing benefits within a couple of quarters."


* SOA, or service-oriented architecture, is one of the hottest buzzwords in IT today, and it's been gaining traction steadily as an open industry standard.

* SOA services are described as self-contained, reusable, application-based units of work. They can include business functions, transactions or system service functions.

* One compelling feature of SOA, experts say, is that it uses existing technologies like Web Services and Java and doesn't require reams of added programming.

* Proponents say that SOA can be especially effective in M & A situations, where it allows disparate systems to communicate far more readily.
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Title Annotation:it integration
Author:Marshall, Jeffrey
Publication:Financial Executive
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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