As businesses are pressed to integrate increasingly diverse and complex application environments, services-oriented architectures will play an important role in presenting a unified face to users. The good news: An SOA plan can be defined and sold to management in a number of ways, as long as it removes redundancy and is written with security in mind. That was the consensus of several IT executives Tuesday at InformationWeek's Spring Conference in Amelia Island, Fla.
"Every company has to define what SOA means to them," said Patrick Hale, director of technology implementation and consulting for health insurance provider Highmark Inc. One of the key criteria of Highmark's year-old SOA strategy is that it makes use of Web services to connect applications across multiple types of computing platforms.
Two years ago, Automatic Data Processing Inc. embarked on its SOA journey without any fancy naming conventions or lingo. "When we started out, we didn't even know that's what we were doing," said Bob Bongiorno, ADP's senior VP and CIO for employer services. "How do you make different products look like one and drive additional revenue? We were simply trying to solve business problems associated with the company expanding out from being a payroll company to a full-service HR company."
ADP's SOA strategy is to keep the cost of the project down by centralizing redundant functions that many applications can use, such as sign-on, Bongiorno said.
Financial services and insurance provider The Hartford is six years into its SOA rollout in an effort to make its systems easier for its agents to use. The secret is keeping focused on what needs to be accomplished, rather than getting distracted by different software and services purporting to help the process. "We don't try to sell SOA as some grandiose business strategy," said James McGovern, chief security architect with The Hartford.
There's no shortage of such software and services. IBM Monday rolled out new versions of its WebSphere software to accommodate the push to implement services-oriented architectures, including WebSphere Portal 6.0 to integrate IBM Workplace and collaborative technologies, a workflow tool that makes use of WebSphere Process Server, WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus open standards-based software designed to help simplify the integration of business processes, and WebSphere Business Monitor 6.0 for improving business visibility and delivering a process-centric approach to SOA.
One thing's for sure, the high level of interest in SOA has created a major market for SOA consulting and systems integration services and will feed the need for related outsourcing, application management, support, and training in the future. IDC forecasts that worldwide spending on SOA-based services will reach $8.6 billion this year, a 138% increase from $3.6 billion in 2005. IDC projects that by 2010 global SOA-based services spending will reach $33.8 billion.
Several risks must be considered before any SOA strategy can be implemented. "When you extend capabilities to users outside the enterprise without a good security model, you introduce risk," McGovern said. Bongiorno added that companies also need to create a blueprint that prevents the failure of one component from bringing down the entire application infrastructure.
The one piece of advice regarding SOA that all IT executives can agree upon? When the project is done, just make sure it works.