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Well on Our Way to SOA? Still Much To Do

If you attended SAP's SAPPHIRE user conference in Boston, you were inundated with hype about SAP's Enterprise Services Architecture (ESA) -- SAP's own brand of service-oriented architecture (SOA).

If you attended SAP's SAPPHIRE user conference in Boston, you were inundated with hype about SAP's Enterprise Services Architecture (ESA) — SAP's own brand of service-oriented architecture (SOA). SAP claimed that ESA lets you change your processes and create new composite applications not by coding but through model-based design and configuration. Business analysts can purportedly bypass IT bottlenecks and institute needed process changes practically on the fly. So ESA is going to make the dreams of many information and business architects come true, right? Not so fast.

While SAP was extolling ESA's virtues in Boston, the pragmatists were getting down to brass tacks across the Charles River, in Cambridge. Panelists at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium discussed the state of e-business, SOA and business agility. Participants included top academics, researchers, CIOs and senior executives from eminent organizations. Interestingly, everyone but SAP's representative, Lutz Heuser, VP of corporate research and chief development architect, claimed to have made great progress along the SOA path. "We [meaning everyone] are halfway toward realizing the benefits of SOA at the enterprise level," Heuser said.

Even Heuser, the most cautious, was overly optimistic. We're actually only about a third of the way to realizing true SOA-enabled enterprise agility, although SAP will be among the first to make it possible. Here's why.

SOA-enabled business agility requires completion of four phases. First, we need a centrally managed business-technology platform. SAP's NetWeaver is such a platform. Next, we need to decompose business processes into individual services. SAP has begun work on its first 500 services.

Third, we need to conquer change management, which will be much more difficult than creating the technologies (NetWeaver and service specifications). Enterprises must change not only the way they design applications but also how they communicate services information and reuse to people in the organizations to define new business processes. Enterprises will need business and system analysts to help craft and implement new business processes, rather than teams of hard-core IT developers. Get ready for another IT paradigm shift.

ERP customers will have a relatively easier time adapting to SOA and business agility. ERP creates a cultural change that gets you accustomed to sharing applications, business processes and data. Just about all the ERP modules share the same reference data and infrastructure. The challenge will be that IT folks will try to think in terms of code, while the ESA team thinks in terms of process maps and their interactions.

The last but most important phase in truly realizing business agility through SOA is deployment in distributed environments. Under the ESA model, you must manage a very large number of very small objects spread across the globe to complete a business process. It is here that SAP is relying on partners — Cisco, Computer Associates, EMC, Intel and Veritas — that know best how to manage distributed information ecosystems. SAP is working with them to make the ESA vision a reality that clients can use to design and execute innovative business processes and to manage service-oriented business processes across the globe. This initiative has just started. It will take SAP until at least 2007 to embed such management components within NetWeaver.

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