Getting to ModernBy David Baum
Enterprise architecture integrates services and delivers business success.
From automating manual processes to enabling new enterprise processes, technology has certainly changed business operations. However, there’s a new approach for managing technical resources that goes beyond changing individual operations and instead aligns all of IT more closely to business strategy. Enterprise architecture is a method and organizing principle that aligns functional business objectives and strategies with an IT strategy and execution plan.
“The overriding objective of enterprise architecture is to direct the evolution and transformation of enterprises with technology,” says Mark Salser, senior vice president of the Enterprise Solutions Group at Oracle. “This in turn makes IT a more strategic asset for successfully implementing a modern business strategy.”
Reviving Legacy Software Assets
Enterprise architecture is a professional discipline that starts with matching business requirements to an architectural vision (considering governance, current state of assets, road map, and business case). One aspect in harnessing the power of enterprise architecture is to maximize and fine-tune the benefits of a service-oriented architecture (SOA), which can lower costs by sharing services, create agility by orchestrating services, and improve interoperability between application silos.
“SOA is an empowering vehicle for legacy modernization projects,” says Lance Knowlton, vice president of platform migrations at Oracle. “By taking the most-costly legacy systems and modernizing them with SOA, you can provide a framework for moving other legacy services to a lower-cost platform.”
This architecture development process provides the structure for an enterprise architecture that can optimize the use of shared services in an organization. In reorganizing its legacy system, for example, Deutsche Leasing leveraged SOA principles to construct a completely new architecture with new workflows and business processes while retaining all of its old business-relevant knowledge.
Founded in 1962, Deutsche Leasing is the largest finance leasing company in Germany and one of the top five in Europe. The company offers a range of leasing services and insurance packages for both movable and nonmovable assets, such as information and communications technology assets, machinery and industrial equipment, medical technology, fleet management, and energy products.
Deutsche Leasing had to find a way to modernize more than 80 software applications developed over three decades and deployed primarily on IBM mainframe computers. The computer languages included COOL:Gen, Mantis, Cobol, Assembler, and Smalltalk—more than 8 million lines of source code in all. According to Peter Kox, head of Development International and Services at Deutsche Leasing, expanding this complex IT environment on the existing platforms was an expensive, dead-end prospect that extended the company’s reliance on obsolete technology and a dwindling base of legacy skills. “Our mainframe applications were facing the end of their useful life, so we decided to step into a modern Java EE [Java Platform, Enterprise Edition] architecture,” he says.
Kox, who served as program manager for the migration to the Java EE/Oracle platform, says the legacy applications were not well documented and not particularly scalable. Worse still, making changes was time consuming and risky to the business; taking down and revising a module often had unforeseen consequences. Deutsche Leasing wanted a new architecture that would duplicate the legacy functionality and add new capabilities as well.
“Most companies start the modernization journey focused on solving a specific tactical pain point,” says Barry Perkins, vice president of Oracle Modernization at Oracle. “Our goal is to solve the tactical issues while incorporating a strategic focus, providing tailored solutions that deliver maximum business value and benefit with a rapid ROI [return on investment] and a reduced TCO [total cost of ownership].”
Perkins says that Oracle’s modernization process begins with a business and technical discovery to document a company’s current business processes, IT environment, strategic future goals, and business requirements, followed by an assessment of its challenges and issues. With this information, the enterprise architecture team develops a modernization road map based on best practices that satisfies the customer’s modernization requirement.
Based on the outcome of Deutsche Leasing’s discovery process, Oracle modernization partner Hexaware recommended rearchitecting the company’s legacy systems. This involved recovering and reassembling business-relevant code from legacy applications while eliminating as much of the technology-specific code as possible. Deutsche Leasing began by inventorying all of the legacy software assets, creating a model of the 3,000-plus programs that made up the overall system. The goal of the rearchitecture was to leverage existing business processes, data models, and presentation logic as much as possible within a new Java EE architecture. Data from Btrieve, VSAM, DB2, and Microsoft Access databases was then cleansed and migrated into an Oracle Database; the new applications were deployed on Oracle WebLogic Server.
Deutsche Leasing used its SOA to enhance its contract termination module. The company created a unified partner management module for managing all partners and products, a management module for defining product offerings, and a Web-based system for lease- and hire-purchase products. It also centralized its security directory. “All the business services are implemented as discrete business functions that operate independently of the state of any other service defined within the system,” says Otto Schmitz, CIO at Deutsche Leasing.
Each service has a well-defined set of interfaces that exchange data with each other using Oracle Enterprise Service Bus. The business service layer also provides a mechanism to take enterprise-scale components, business-unit-specific components, and in some cases, project-specific components, and externalize a subset of their interfaces in the form of service descriptions. “The enterprise components provide service realization at runtime using the functionality provided by their interfaces,” Schmitz says.
This enterprise architecture provides the performance and flexibility Deutsche Leasing needs while opening access to a large pool of developers. “It’s much quicker to make changes, create innovative business services, and maintain the environment,” says Kox.
From the Vision to the Plan
A successful enterprise architecture is woven into the enterprise’s culture and evolves over time, maintaining flexibility for future change. But to get to an enterprise architecture, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs had to start almost entirely from scratch, incorporating its constituencies’ demands as well as federal goals and mandates as guidelines for technical innovation.
“We had been off the intranet for six years as a result of a court order,” says Al Foster, acting CIO for Indian Affairs. “We didn’t have direct internet access. We didn’t have BlackBerrys for wireless access to e-mail. We had a very basic external Web site. We were not able to use many of the tools most corporations and government agencies had access to,” he says.
That didn’t stop Indian Affairs from planning for the future. “What we needed after the court order was lifted was an infrastructure that would allow us to join the rest of the Web-connected world,” he says.
The agency’s planning was guided by four primary issues. “We looked for an integrated product suite because we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel,” Foster says. “Next, we wanted something that would provide us with agility, because that’s a goal of the new [Obama] administration—to deliver capabilities quickly.”
Foster says the agency also wanted the new infrastructure to provide capabilities for communication and collaboration. This is extremely important given the agency’s diverse mission, which includes everything from education—Indian Affairs runs a federal education system for more than 40,000 students—and law enforcement to fiduciary responsibility for the trust assets of Native American tribes. Two million tribal members count on the Indian Affairs Web site for information. Currently, 5,000 employees use the new intranet site, a number that will grow to about 10,000 within a year. “We needed an architecture that would allow all these parts of the organization to communicate effectively,” he says.
Finally, the new infrastructure had to sync up technically with the rest of the federal agencies.
In planning for all these constituencies and planning for the future, Foster and his team had to be sensitive to the need to empower information owners to manage their own content. “We initially wanted to do this to remove IT from the content management workflow, and this, in turn, has positioned us to respond to the new administration’s plans for open and transparent government,” Foster says.
Indian Affairs chose Oracle products because when the agency evaluated the market, Oracle offered the best combination of capabilities. “We were interested in speed, security, and simplicity to achieve our outcomes,” says Foster. “We wanted Enterprise 2.0 capabilities as part of an IT environment that could integrate with other federal agencies under the auspices of the U.S. Department of the Interior. We were interested in green computing, which our secretary and the new administration support. This is what Oracle delivered.”
Goals for communication and collaboration were enhanced by the Oracle WebCenter Suite Spaces feature, which has social computing services, certified Oracle application integrations, and Microsoft Office desktop integration to improve the usability and productivity of personal and group work environments. “Users can customize the site to determine what they see on their portal and how to arrange their personal workspaces,” Foster says. “This gives us the best of both worlds: a secure, centrally administered infrastructure that gives people individual control.”
The Oracle solution, while giving the agency the functionality it needs now, also gives Indian Affairs an opportunity to grow. “The core infrastructure is there to allow us to add other capabilities that are of interest to us, including, for example, Oracle Identity Management and Oracle Records Management,” Foster says. “Those two areas present significant challenges for many federal agencies.”
Indian Affairs weighed the cost of its enterprise architecture using Oracle against the long-term benefits. “This was an appreciable investment, but we calculated we would spend less money over the long term if we put the right foundation in place,” Foster says. “We have a well-defined vision for what we are trying to accomplish, and Oracle’s enterprise architecture enables us to think long term and to integrate new capabilities over time.”
A Framework for Integration
Developing an enterprise architecture presented unique challenges at the University of Wisconsin when its student financial aid office set out to create an online scholarship service to match qualified undergraduate students with available awards. The financial aid office worked with all of the university’s undergraduate schools and colleges as well as the Division of Information Technology, but the university’s decentralized environment meant that business objectives—much less an IT strategy—were not necessarily aligned.
“Each school and college is independent,” says Mary Hillstrom, assistant director in the Office of Student Financial Aid. “It’s been hard even to know how many scholarships we have on campus and, of those, what their total worth is. And that was part of the challenge of this project—making a decentralized campus work in a centralized way so that we could better serve students.”
The Office of Student Financial Aid decided to create a Scholarships@UW-Madison application, integrating it with the university’s surrounding services infrastructure. “We wanted to take advantage of Oracle’s direction,” says Karen Gunderson, technical manager for the project. “And we wanted a service-oriented-architecture approach.”
As an Oracle Fusion Middleware and Oracle WebLogic Suite customer, the university already had a license for Oracle Application Development Framework (Oracle ADF), a Java environment for building enterprise applications. Todd Hill, a lead developer on the project, decided to use this framework with Oracle JDeveloper as the application development environment.
Using Oracle ADF Faces Rich Client permitted the university to create a rich, interactive environment that displays lots of data relationships simultaneously. “Oracle ADF Faces Rich Client is very Ajax friendly,” says Hill.
The Scholarships@UW-Madison application gets student data from Oracle’s PeopleSoft Campus solutions; with its component interfaces, PeopleSoft Integration Broker made access to this data relatively easy. The university used Oracle ADF security to allow fine-grain control over pages and task flows, protecting sensitive student data.
According to Gunderson, the new application helps users identify and apply for scholarships while helping schools and colleges disperse available funds. For example, a donor might want to target a scholarship to a student with a 3.8 grade point average who went to a local high school. “With this system, we can help students know which scholarships they are eligible to apply for,” she says.
Hillstrom estimates that students will save time applying for financial aid, and financial aid officers will need less time to evaluate applications using the new process. In addition, Gunderson says, every department and college at the university will ultimately save time, money, and effort by not having to support its own financial grant systems.
The project was rolled out to continuing students in the College of Letters and Science in September 2009. Ultimately, the new application will be available to all undergraduate enrollment, about 25,000 students in all. Hillstrom, Gunderson, and Hill all believe that their experience will influence other projects at the university.
“I think [a system like this] gets traction at the business level first,” Hill says. “What hooks a lot of business users are the user interface features. Then we can speak to some of the advantages at the development level.”
“We are making it easier for the schools and colleges on campus to offer and award scholarships,” says Hillstrom. “The better we can automate this process, the better we can help students meet their academic goals.”
David Baum (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance business writer based in Santa Barbara, California.