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10/6/2006
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New Tools Will Help SOA Soar In Businesses

IBM, BEA introduce SOA development and management tools to help business expand deployments

Service-oriented architecture, with its reusable software components, is proving itself useful for solving certain business problems--and for drumming up enormous hype. But SOA is still an immature technology, and businesses need better tools if SOA is going to deliver on its broad promise of improved flexibility, speedier application development, and faster delivery of services.

IBM and BEA Systems are rolling out tools that address shortcomings in SOA product offerings that force companies to do a lot of custom integration, one reason many customers have come away disappointed. Twenty-four percent of 273 business technology professionals surveyed by InformationWeek Research in August said their SOA and Web services efforts fell short of expectations. SOA projects met expectations for 69% of respondents, while only 7% said they exceeded expectations. Those with dashed expectations said SOA introduced more complexity, cost more than they had anticipated, and didn't provide the expected level of integration.

Businesses need SOA governance tools for managing Web services, software for designing business processes within SOA environments, and tools for building industry-specific Web services. Such capabilities help elevate SOA from a software development project to a discussion between IT and business unit managers about what services are important and how they should be implemented, says Tracy LeGrand, VP of technology, strategy, and architecture at Ameriprise Financial. The financial planning, banking, and brokerage services firm was an early adopter of SOA, using IBM software as part of an SOA initiative since 2000.

"In order for SOA to deliver the full business value, it has to become a business strategy," LeGrand says. "If it stays as a technology discussion, you get limited results." Ameriprise's SOA-based customer management, asset management, and money transfer systems are based on IBM's WebSphere MQ and WebSphere Business Integration software. Reuse of customer service components alone saved the company about $2 million in that system's first year, he says, and improved time to market for developing customer services.

But IBM doesn't have all the pieces. "Early SOA adopters may have found gaps and had to do some handcrafting," acknowledged Steve Mills, senior VP of IBM's software group, during an SOA product announcement last week.

IBM filled some of those gaps when it introduced four SOA-related products, 23 enhanced products, and 11 services. The WebSphere Registry and Repository lets businesses manage Web services and shared business processes. IBM says the products will promote the reuse of services by letting users publish and find Web services and related metadata throughout SOA development and deployment.

The products incorporate technology from IBM's Rational development toolset and from BuildForge, a company IBM acquired in May. WebSphere Business Modeler includes features for visualizing business processes to help identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies before they affect system performance. And a new release of WebSphere Process Server aligns business workflows with human activities such as task approvals and delegation.

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