IT vendors worldwide have all clambered on to the service-orientated architecture (SOA) bandwagon and almost every single one of them is claiming their solution to be SOA-enabled to ensure customers are able to adapt quickly to changing market needs. 

This is, of course, exactly what SOA is supposed to do, writes Emma Murray, business development manager: integration solutions at Software AG South Africa.
But, the part that confuses me is that so few of these vendors provide a means to reuse the existing IT investments already in place in customer organisations.
Without reusing what is already in place means customers need to recreate existing processes on the new technology platform. This is costly exercise that poses high risk to the customer – for instance, what if the new customer acquisition process has a faulty credit check routine?
Furthermore, if these systems first need to be duplicated, how can the solution provide a rapid response time to market changes – another point of SOA?
“Legacy systems” is a phrase that has such stigma associated with it. Yet market analysts define a legacy system as any production system.
Given this, legacy modernisation is a critical component of any SOA because businesses already have supporting systems in place to enable daily business transactions.
These systems have been built up over many years according to the specific needs of the business, and have critical processes and intellectual property in them that need to be exposed to other areas of the business for reuse and also in new market initiatives.
Replacement of these systems is expensive, risky and most often, unnecessary and they are already the reliable base of day-to-day business operations.
Rather than exposing the business to the risk of a replacement strategy, secure the investments in these assets and unlock the systems by means of open standards, to assure their reusability within the SOA.
Additionally, most of the IT functionality needed to support the business processes already exists in these IT legacy systems – or else the business would not have survived.
According to the Software AG SOA Maturity Model, once legacy modernisation is achieved the real value of an SOA will begin to come to the fore.
By reusing systems and processes already in place, organisations will be able to achieve faster times to market.
For example, it is far easier to change a component of an existing process than it is to recreate the entire process over again, just so that a single component can be modified or replaced with a better one.
Furthermore, by enabling components of existing systems and processes to be changed when necessary, this enables the organisation to implement continuous improvement within these systems.
By enabling only the necessary components within the total system to be replaced, this also reduces the risk of such changes, as well as the cost and the time to market to the business overall.
In the end, SOA should enable organisations to lead the way, and IT will adapt to the business requirements. This means that SOA will allow an organisation to implement new business processes without having to implement new applications first. And process and business innovation is what drives the organisations of the future.
As long as IT understands this, and provides the solutions that business seeks, there will always be value in the role IT can offer the business.