As Published In
Oracle Magazine
November/December 2007

FEATURE


Perform with SOA

By David Baum

Oracle delivers flexibility to the enterprise.

Changing markets, competitive pressures, and evolving customer needs all demand that IT managers deliver greater flexibility and speed for their organizations. To achieve better partner application integration, modernize or integrate legacy elements into new systems, or use new or different Web interfaces, many companies turn to a service-oriented architecture (SOA). An SOA simplifies the development of enterprise applications as modular, reusable business services that are easily integrated, changed, and maintained. 

Oracle SOA Suite
Oracle SOA Suite
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While SOA may be considered too new or experimental by some development shops, John R. Rymer, vice president and senior analyst at Forrester Research, says today's service-oriented software systems are based on distributed computing principles that have been created and refined over the last 18 to 20 years. "We've learned a lot about creating modular software systems connected by well-defined interfaces, and today's SOA platforms incorporate all of those lessons," he says.

Even with refined distributed computing principles behind SOA, a common challenge for organizations facing change is how to adopt SOA technologies and techniques without destabilizing existing business services. Is there a way companies can gracefully modernize or evolve legacy applications into the new world of SOA?

Based on the successful Oracle Forms-to-SOA strategy underway at Eurotransplant International Foundation, the answer is yes. This not-for-profit organization helps coordinate the supply of organ donations and related information to institutions in the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Austria, Croatia, and Slovenia, bringing together hospitals, transplant centers, and laboratories into a collaborative framework. Instantaneous communication is essential in the life-or-death situations that Eurotransplant confronts each day, and the foundation has a long history of using Oracle Forms to provide physicians with current information about available organs and patient waiting lists.

Snapshots


Eurotransplant International Foundation

 Location: Leiden, The Netherlands
 Industry: Healthcare
 Employees: 100
 Oracle products: Oracle Application Server 10g, Oracle Forms, Oracle JDeveloper, Oracle BPEL Process Manager

Hays Medical Center

 Location: Hays, Kansas
 Industry: Healthcare
 Employees: 1,200
 Oracle products and services: Oracle Consulting, Oracle B2B Engine, Trading Partner Management, Oracle BPEL Process Manager, Oracle Healthcare Adapter, Oracle's XSLT transformation tool, Oracle Business Activity Monitoring, Oracle WebCenter

Korea Institute of Patent Information

 Location: Seoul, South Korea
 Industry: Public sector
 Employees: 500
 Oracle products: Oracle Database, Oracle Real Application Clusters, Oracle SOA Suite, Oracle Content Database Suite, Oracle Application Server, Oracle Jdeveloper

Murk Schaafsma, development manager at Eurotransplant, and his colleagues are now upgrading their core information systems while exploring the opportunities presented by Java and SOA. "BPEL [Business Process Execution Language] and SOA are helping us implement a system that supports our back office in the time-critical organ allocation process," says Schaafsma. "The system will give us a more patient-safe process and, in addition, we can fulfill the wishes for more transparency, which is increasingly desired by patients and national authorities."

Wilfred van der Deijl, the system architect at Eurotransplant, says an SOA will allow the foundation to accommodate disparate business rules while retaining their investment in Oracle Forms. "We want to deploy an evolutionary model, not a revolutionary one," he says. "In the past, adopting a new technology frequently meant we had to abandon the old technology. With SOA and Oracle BPEL Process Manager, we are proving that we can service-enable our existing systems and reuse them in the new architecture."

Eurotransplant uses Oracle BPEL Process Manager to help developers translate business requirements into workable information systems that can be implemented by the IT department. "Allocating available organs to the appropriate patients is a complex process requiring a great deal of flexibility," van der Deijl says. "Oracle BPEL Process Manager allows us to develop process-driven applications that truly support the people who will be executing these business processes."

Eurotransplant developed a technique to reuse its existing Oracle Forms, which used to be at the core of many of Eurotransplant's data-entry applications, in new user interfaces that were being built. The technique uses Oracle JDeveloper and Oracle Application Development Framework (Oracle ADF) technology. "With Eurotransplant's background firmly rooted in Oracle Forms, Oracle JDeveloper and Oracle ADF have allowed the organization to use its existing skill set to realize the benefits of SOA technologies quickly," says Grant Ronald, group product manager, application development tools, Oracle. Indeed, Eurotransplant's approach won the organization the 2007 Editor's Choice Award at the Oracle Development Tools User Group conference.

Gradual Evolution

SOA is also valuable as an integration platform for connecting disparate information systems. Consider Hays Medical Center, a private, not-for-profit hospital in Hays, Kansas, that serves about 130,000 citizens and employs more than 1,200 people. Hays Medical Center has received numerous honors for its outstanding patient care and telemedicine programs.

A Foundation for Web 2.0


New forms of communication and personalized services—collectively referred to as Web 2.0—are enabling browser-based applications to mimic the rich user experience of the client/server era. Referring to a second generation of the Web that entails hosted services and communities such as social-networking sites, wikis, and folksonomies, Web 2.0 points to changes in the ways developers and consumers use the Web as a platform.

"Web 2.0 represents a series of new ideas about how to make applications more interactive," says John R. Rymer, vice president and senior analyst at Forrester Research. "It includes new metaphors for communicating and collaborating that have become popular on the Web at large. There's absolutely no reason we shouldn't use these techniques in our business applications."

These new services are compelling, but they can't stand in isolation from the rest of the enterprise. "For an enterprise IT department, the issue is not only how to use Web 2.0 capabilities but how to integrate new development environments and scripting languages with traditional languages and databases," says Kenneth Bailey, principal product manager for Oracle Fusion Middleware.

SOA lays a foundation for Web 2.0 because Web services protocols allow us to more flexibly create interactions and conduct transactions over the internet, Forrester's Rymer says. "Services can be plugged into social networks, wikis, rich internet applications, and other metaphors and presentation formats," he says. "Without SOA, Web 2.0 isn't very interesting because the systems are too brittle, too static, and thus they can't evolve to use these new capabilities."

Oracle's Bailey sees a natural synergy between Web 2.0 and SOA-enabled applications. "Oracle WebCenter uses SOA principles to create productive work environments that include Web 2.0 services such as instant messaging, wikis, and discussion forums, as well as applications that create or use Web services," he says.

Over the years, Hays Medical has created an extensive set of point-to-point interfaces to exchange vital healthcare information, both internally and with its business partners. These interfaces have been constructed using various technologies, protocols, and document standards—most recently using Health Care Language 7 (HL7), a standard protocol for exchanging electronic medical records.

Faced with the high cost of managing, maintaining, and enhancing this diverse environment, Hays Medical looked for a more cohesive way to integrate new and old technologies using open, standard protocols. "We want to bring all of our applications under one umbrella," says Alan Wamser, a systems analyst at Hays Medical Center who is driving the SOA implementation.

Wamser and his team worked with Oracle Consulting to complete a proof-of-concept that integrates their existing infrastructure, including a Meditech Patient Care System module and the GE Vitals 8000 hardware device. This versatile architecture—which uses Oracle B2B Engine, Oracle Healthcare Adapter, and Oracle BPEL Process Manager—is reducing development costs and supplying more-timely patient information to healthcare providers. For example, nurses can capture vital telemetry data at the bedside with mobile devices, then automatically upload the information to pertinent medical and business applications.

Hays Medical plans to expand the proof-of-concept to incorporate additional application-to-application interfaces and to simplify its B2B interactions with trading partners using the HL7 standard. "Using Oracle BPEL Process Manager as part of an SOA strategy gives us a standards-based mapping and data transformation tool," says Wamser. "Ultimately, we'll have a more-cohesive application environment, with an open framework to deploy multiple processes based on Web services. It will be easier to map existing processes and develop new integration flows into Hays Medical applications." Additionally, Hays Medical plans to use Oracle WebCenter and Oracle Business Activity Monitoring tools to create real-time dashboards that can present medical information to authorized personnel in the chain of care.

Learning from the Past

For organizations faced with increasing customer demands for more information and better service, an SOA can be the answer. The Korea Institute of Patent Information (KIPI) in South Korea manages data related to intellectual property rights (IPR). As an organization established by the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO), KIPI is responsible for disseminating information on local and international IPR. KIPI also provides patent analysis services to companies, research institutes, and investors.

Escalating demand for KIPI's services prompted the organization to review the way it manages and distributes information. In the past, organizations that wanted trademark data had to submit a request to KIPI, then wait up to 10 days for information to be compiled. This approach was inefficient and frustrated the organization's clients. KIPI decided to move to an SOA environment to make it easier to collect, share, and manage information. 

Next Steps


 LEARN about SOA

 READ about Web 2.0 in Oracle WebCenter

 DOWNLOAD Oracle SOA Suite

Developers used applications from Oracle SOA Suite, including Oracle BPEL Process Manager, to link their trademark database to the KIPO database as well as to model a number of workflows. "We concentrated on building a system infrastructure that enables institutes or enterprises that require intellectual property information to utilize KIPI's SOA-based Web service," says Kang Chang-soo, team manager of the computing development operation team at KIPI.

The new self-service system uses SOA to connect users to that data directly, so they can log in to the trademark database and download the required information. And the 10 days it used to take to process user requests for patent data has been reduced to less than one hour.

The job was successful despite severe time constraints for completion. "Oracle SOA Suite established perfectly the basic framework of this project," concludes Kang. 


David Baum (david@dbaumcomm.com) is a freelance business writer based in Santa Barbara, California.

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