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].
SOA Infrastructure For BPM