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7/19/2006
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Accenture Unveils $450 Million SOA Initiative

That money will be used in part to fund a new service-oriented architecture lab, which will focus on accelerating the development of custom applications in specific industries, beginning with health care and financial services.

Accenture said Wednesday it will invest $450 million during the next three years to accelerate the growth of its service-oriented architecture (SOA) capabilities.

The strategy, aimed at helping companies realize the benefits of SOA, calls for a new center dubbed Accenture Technology Lab for SOA Innovation.

The new facility, meant to accelerate the development of custom SOA applications, will concentrate on specific industries, beginning with healthcare and financial services.

"The lab will answer the question whether SOA will become the default way companies build and integrate systems," said David Nichols, an executive partner and the global SOA lead in Accenture's Technology & Delivery group. "If so, what are the key challenges? Are they skills, technology, or the ability to integrate business processes across organizations?"

The lab's tools and methods are being designed to assist companies in reshaping legacy computer systems into applications. It's a joint effort between all four of Accenture's research and development facilities, which are located in Chicago; Palo Alto, Calif.; Sophia Antipolis, France; and Bangalore, India.

"Not only will the lab enable Accenture to get their ideas together at their desks, but test the idea in a safe environment to see if it's doable," said Marianne Hedin, program manager at research firm IDC. "They will test to find out the benefits, the challenges, and if it's a project a client can actually get use. They won't use the client as a test bed, because that does happen sometimes."

Gartner Inc. research vice president Jeff Woods says companies today face two major problems when it comes to applications: enabling business agility and managing innovation. Woods explains additional investments in SOA development are important, but the real "game-changing idea" is the platform for business applications.

Although Gartner calls SOA "the emergence of the Business Process Platform (BPP)," the technology transition "is as important as the move to relational databases, object-oriented programming, and client/server," Woods said.

One primary task of the new lab will focus on building reusable modules by using domain-specific language and model-driven development. In model-driven development, applications are written in business language, instead of computer languages. The domain-specific business language automatically converts it into computer code. The language is designed to be useful for a specific set of business tasks.

The lab will initially focus on the healthcare industry at least until March 2007, with a project aimed at integrating multiple steps to fill prescriptions. These include credit-checking, billing code generation, and risk assessment.

Accenture decided to focus initially on healthcare, and specifically e-prescriptions because "everyone understands what a prescription is," says Don Rippert, Accenture's chief technology officer. "If we have picked the stock [transactions] in the chemical industry, we'd spend a lot of time explaining that" to SOA customers and partners.

E-prescribing processes involve many individuals, including the doctor, the patient, the pharmacy, as well as the need to check for drug allergies, adverse reactions, insurance coverage and more, making it an easy example for Accenture to explain to clients and others the benefits SOA can bring.

InformationWeek's Marianne Kolbasuk McGee contributed to this report.

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