Profit Opinion

John Matelski - August 2008

SOA (service-oriented architecture) isn’t what you would call a new technology acronym—it’s been bouncing around the business world for years. But the conversation around SOA is starting to change its tone. I heard a lot of SOA chatter and buzz from people that I spoke with at COLLABORATE 08 in Denver this spring, as well as at other peer group gatherings that I’ve attended. Judging from this anecdotal interest, as well as from projects that we are currently implementing in Gwinnett County, it’s clear that the concept is really hitting the mainstream.

Many business and governmental organizations are moving from an applications-based architecture to a service-based architecture, for some very important reasons. For one, by freeing business processes from their functional and applications-driven silos and creating processes based on a company’s or organization’s wide repository of shared services, there are significant business efficiencies that any organization can gain.

Moving to SOA also allows enterprises to move faster and deliver key business services quickly. And because you don’t have to start from scratch with each process, it helps companies react and adapt faster. You can more effectively roll out changes with minimal complexity.

Of course, SOA also helps IT in a number of ways. It reduces complexity, increases reuse of code, and helps ease the ever-vexing issue of legacy system integration and maintenance. All good things—but helping IT isn’t the reason SOA is finally gaining serious traction in the business world.

The reality is that for companies to compete or public sector organizations to do business more effectively, enterprises must analyze how technology is aligned with business processes—not from a siloed perspective, but by figuring out how to build processes that span multiple functions effectively. By tying services together to create seamless and efficient processes that actually serve business needs, companies can improve productivity and agility.

We are now seeing SOA business cases that translate the acronym into actual solutions that improve productivity and cut costs—something that is going to raise business interest. The people who live and work in Gwinnett County don’t particularly care if my enterprise resource planning (ERP) application works more quickly—but they do care if I can reduce costs, provide services more effectively, or help Gwinnett County run more efficiently as it utilizes their taxpayer dollars. If I can save money in the long run through service reuse, then those funds can be used elsewhere. That is the reason why we are entering into the first phase of a move to SOA.

To start the project, we’re using balanced scorecard methodologies to identify the functional areas that are most critical in terms of meeting our constituents’ needs. The next step will be to look at the applications we run so that we can map them to different business processes and see where they relate.

The end goal is to utilize accurate data from a variety of applications to provide efficient services that help support Gwinnett County’s important business processes. It is also important to ensure that we do not create duplicate data sets. We have to be able to pull data from disparate sources and present that data in whatever form is needed. The best way to do that is through SOA.

Given what I’m seeing as increased levels of significant business interest in SOA, Oracle’s acquisition of BEA Systems looks like yet another smart move on the road to creating a complete portfolio of products for Oracle’s customers. Although Oracle has a number of other business process management products and a middleware technology stack to help its customers move to SOA, the acquisition of BEA makes the Oracle product line even more attractive to enterprises that are contemplating SOA. Ultimately, adding BEA to Oracle’s already comprehensive product line should make it simpler and more cost effective for any Oracle customer seeking to implement SOA in its data center—and that can only be seen as a win for everybody.

John Matelski is chairman of the International Oracle Users Group Community (IOUC) and a member of the board of directors of Quest International Users Group. He is the chief information officer and director of IT services for Gwinnett County, Georgia.


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