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Is Service Oriented Architecture the way of the future?

Posted: 01/24/2011
Process Excellence Network
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Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is a design process which has been fluctuating in favour in recent years. At one time some were predicting the end of SOA as a principle, but now a number of experts believe 2011 could see it merge with a another key IT trend – cloud computing.

Simply explained, SOA involves an interoperable set of services, which are classified as being a well-defined and self-contained process. An SOA allows these loosely coupled services to interact with each other, but the functionality of one does not affect the performance of the other.

Increasingly SOA is being linked with web services; however, the principle existed well before the internet really began to take off, as David Sprott and Lawrence Wilkes from CBDI Forum - a think tank specializing in practices for SOA- noted in a 2004 article for Microsoft.

Indeed, there are many experts who believe SOA is not a new concept at all, but simply an evolution of existing processes.

Benefits of an SOA

A well defined SOA has the potential to provide significant benefits for businesses. But, according to Sprott and Wilkes, there is often void between the understanding of IT and how it can improve overall business processes.

"SOA is not just an architecture of services seen from a technology perspective, but the policies, practices, and frameworks by which we ensure the right services are provided and consumed," they say.

By using SOA, businesses are better able to remove old and introduce new services with minimal disruption to their existing system. In short, it better allows companies to adapt to a rapidly changing business environment – making it particularly relevant as web-based operations advance and expand.

An SOA also allows for the reuse of existing services, rather than making businesses rebuild their systems from scratch.

Challenges and Real World Uses

Rolling out a SOA is not without its challenges. A report by Forrester Research, for instance, found that companies must first decide if they wish to implement a top-down or bottom-up approach in order for their SOA to be a success.

Jost Hoppermann, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, said that companies looking to employ a SOA should be wary of following too closely the advice offered by consultants, as they may not always provide a structure best suited to the support of their services.

Indeed, Janne J Korhonen,a management consultant and writer, says that some firms are simply not equipped to implement an SOA.

"SOA, as a technology, does not bring about business agility. In fact, deploying a SOA stack in an organization that is not agile to start with may be seriously misguided and downright detrimental," he wrote in an article on ebizq.net.

Both experts warned the implementation of SOA should not be viewed as a short-term process and companies must be prepared for a long-term commitment.

"SOA pertains to a fundamentally new way of conducting business and calls for sustained organizational learning to adopt a new worldview altogether," wrote Korhonen, adding those working in relatively stable and predictable markets may not have a need for the architecture at all.

If implemented properly, however, SOA provides real world business benefits. Examples from 2010, as outlined by ebizq.net, includedOfficeMax using SOA to order out-of-stock items at the point of sale and conducts real-time monitoring of business transactions to find which products are performing well.

Financial services companies are also increasingly adopting SOA, according to the Forrester research, which found 80 percent currently use the architecture for business services in a production environment, while most of the remaining 20 percent are considering its use.

And, looking these statistics as a part of the basis for his opinion, Hoppermann said the use of SOA is not likely to disappear anytime soon.


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