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The Promise of Service-Oriented Architecture

Organizations spend valuable time and money trying to squeeze what they can out of legacy systems that are, in fact, putting the squeeze on already scarce budgets. In this era of doing better with less, how can organizations get more out of legacy systems that are outdated, siloed and costly to maintain — maximizing their IT investments while getting steps closer to integrated service delivery?

The solution may as well be SOA. Service-oriented architecture (SOA) makes it possible for organizations to achieve cost savings, time savings and the flexibility to make legacy systems work for the agency, not against it. Leadership skills and attributes needed to deliver results across organizational boundaries are critical referent influences in enabling this to happen.

What is SOA?

Recent tactical success in the utilization of Web services has brought renewed attention to the timing for a strategic commitment to Service Oriented Architectures (SOA). Early adopters have been investing in SOA for the past five years, but now the development of more rigorous methodologies and technologies, and the maturing of standards, are making SOA accessible to everyone.

SOA is not a product, a software package or a programming language. Nor is it a collection of Web services. Rather, it is an architectural approach to addressing the challenges of connecting disparate systems. SOA helps manage the connections of various services, capturing what is most meaningful in a legacy system, and reusing those valuable components for maximum efficiency and flexibility. It leverages an organization’s current technologies, enabling it to update programmes incrementally via commercial off-the-shelf, custom build and transfer solutions.

SOA also puts the technology reins into the hands of the business users. Since processes and applications are integrated and standardised, users can often make their own updates. For instance, when a new business process needs to be implemented, business units are equipped to enter necessary changes into a rules-based engine that applies the standards across the board.

In the end, this means lower maintenance costs, improved responsiveness to change, and the flexibility to make more efficient incremental updates and improvements rather than large-scale upgrades to legacy systems or costly new implementations.

With many organizations’ legacy systems dating back 30 years, there is little opportunity to share information seamlessly across departments. And because there is no integrated view of individual clients in some service-based enterprises, it can be challenging to know what services and programmes a client is signed up for, and what additional services they require.  One of the main goals of SOA is the support of business agility, which is to keep pace with the velocity of change and uncertainty faced by an organization in the business climate.

With the goals of mastering data integrity and putting it into the hands of users, organizations must begin the journey to building a flexible architecture on an accelerated time frame.

It would make sense to join forces with a leading consulting firm to jump-start this new infrastructure. Requirements such as the need to share data and maintain its integrity across the organization and among a wide range of users are paramount. Many pre-coded, pre-tested, pre-configured platforms help govern an overall SOA approach and make it easier to implement.

An SOA approach can help enable a number of benefits for organizations, including:

Reusable components — Open architected tools compartmentalise the most meaningful parts of a legacy system so they can be reused across programmes. With these building blocks, leaders can have their department teams build upon these components, making connections through various workflows. The modularity also makes it easy to plug in additional models.

Cost savings — SOA has helped save money on the back end for many companies while giving the client better and more informed services on the front end. By developing discrete services, the agency can reconfigure what is already in place.

Ease of management — SOA offers control. Rather than reacting to competitor initiatives in an ad hoc manner, SOA puts the rules back in the hands of those who write rules. Decisions about new rules can be easily evaluated for their impact, made strategically and applied across the board.

Better connections — The integrated platform yields a common, shared view of the client. Instead of one sales manager serving one client through one department, organizations can deliver a more holistic mix of services based on client needs. For organizations that serve diverse populations, this is critical.

Leadership skills and attributes needed to deliver results across organisational boundaries are critical referent influences in enabling this to happen. A collaborative leadership approach works best with SOA programmes where the following is displayed by the executive group:

1- Willingness to take risks

2- Eager listeners

3- Passion for the cause

4- Optimistic about the future

5- Able to share knowledge, power and credit.

A strong governance model is also critical. Any implementation of governance should be centered on the four pillars of enterprise architecture: people, processes, technology, and services. SOA Governance is a subset of IT Governance, which in turn is a subset of Corporate Governance.

The possibilities with SOA are enticing. An SOA enabled environment no longer has black boxes, no more silos and no more time and money will be spent trying to teach an old legacy system new tricks. It is inevitable that requirements will change. SOA is a good solution today where business needs to evolve, new users or markets are identified, business rules and government regulations are revised, and operating environments change over time.

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