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Plug and Play Meets Process

Service-oriented approaches have helped Owens & Minor, TransUnion, Pfizer and MasterBrand Cabinets build processes quickly and affordably

MasterBrand's project team used Vitria business process integration software to create an architecture that would ultimately support a host of customer and supply chain initiatives, including ordering. Taking what Mewes calls a "noninvasive" approach, the team used Web services to expose and integrate the five separate ordering systems. Because this approach involved rearchitecting the legacy applications versus just adding BPM to an existing SOA, it took about 10 months to complete the project. By late last year, MasterBrand deployed what it calls the "One Touch" system, based on Vitria's CleanOrder single-point order and fulfillment software. As a result, customers now deal with one customer service rep regardless of the number or types of products ordered. Service reps use a single, Web-based order system that will also serve as the backbone of a customer self-service portal now under development.

The system is paying for itself in consolidating orders, Mewes says, adding that the company expects annual savings of $300,000 on shipping costs alone. Reduced call center costs and improved order accuracy bring additional savings, and the company has avoided the costs and risks associated with installing a new ERP system.

The Hard Part

Building out a complete SOA can't be done quickly — or cheaply.

Owens & Minor, TransUnion, Pfizer and MasterBrand all completed successful BPM projects within a few months, but their ongoing SOA efforts are taking years. Guzman of Owens & Minor says the alternative of ripping out legacy systems and moving to ERP "would have been a lot more expensive," though he declined to detail the company's spending. According to Relativity, Fortune 500 enterprises typically spend $400,000 on a 50-user implementation of its Modernization Workbench software, and big, systems-integrator-led SOA projects typically run $1.5 to $2 million. In contrast, spending on BPM projects average $300,000, according to a 2003 study by Delphi Group.

Companies should anticipate obstacles to building a new architecture. "You have cultural issues — people working in a legacy environment who aren't interested in seeing that upset, as well as business logic captured in those legacy systems," Travers says. Asking IT staff to develop shared, reusable Web services runs counter to the way some companies evaluate and compensate programmers. In addition, staff must be trained in the new architecture.

"The one thing I would've done differently is slated more time for knowledge transfer" from consultants to IT staff, says Mewes of MasterBrand. "We're still depending on external resources to develop our infrastructure."

An SOA pays off not only for BPM, but in data management, commerce and portal initiatives as well (see Listening Post). To justify the investment, identify areas where SOA will have the greatest impact. "If your strategy is to get products to market faster, look at the applications you use for product development, design, launch and marketing," says Hill of Meta Group. "Those are the places you might first adopt SOA."

While application components aren't as interchangeable as DVDs, and no enterprise architecture is as easy to work with as your average home entertainment system, SOA is helping organizations better manage business processes and other integration needs.

Michael Voelker is principal of Equinox Communications. Write to him at [email protected].

DOSSIER

SOA Infrastructure For BPM

The Brief
»Competitive requirements for greater business agility run up against problems created by legacy applications that are hard to integrate, especially for end-to-end business processes. Coming to the rescue is SOA, which holds the promise of a standards-based application infrastructure that encourages the development of modular, reusable components (or "services") that can support BPM. To increase agility at a manageable cost, IT managers should look carefully at SOA's role in meeting BPM objectives.

Options
»Rip out legacy systems and install new enterprise applications. While this may be the only choice for systems that require tight integration, the expense and time required for implementation are substantial.
»Employ BPM and process integration software with SOA. Software powerhouses and pureplay vendors offer a range of solutions for implementing cross-system processes.
»Establish SOA as the new paradigm for in-house development. Directing that all new applications adhere to Web services standards will open the way to shared services made up of modular, reusable components.

Influencers
»Customers and partners demand single-point order and fulfillment processes that can change as requirements change. Without BPM and simpler application integration, it will be difficult to meet such demands.
»The emerging SOA paradigm is not yet battle-tested for most mission-critical applications. Organizations that demand exacting levels of enterprise availability, reliability and security should test SOA carefully.
»SOA-based BPM and workflow systems may be good only for fully automated activities. It's not clear yet whether SOA and BPEL are appropriate for human workflow tasks.

Action Items
»Address cultural obstacles to building a new SOA architecture. Not all owners of legacy systems will want to share. Cross-functional process applications often require executive-level champions.
»Identify opportunities for business services, such as supply chain management. Return on investment for SOA-based BPM will come most quickly for customers and partners.