Companies adopting a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) approach will need a significant paradigm shift according to Michael Barnard, senior manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers South Africa Advisory Services, who warns that “a strong orientation shift is required towards a ‘services’ way of thinking. SOA does not start by simply purchasing a SOA software suite and then expecting instant results….this is a sure-fire recipe for a failed project.”
Companies need to undergo a fundamental culture change as the basic proposition in SOA is to “reuse and reconfigure, not build or redesign”. Processes are decomposed into services which reside in a services repository and common activities should be reused across the organisation. In a service-oriented environment, the service activities are generically designed and operations are simplified, using fewer resources and capabilities. An effective SOA framework is deployed across both the technology and business domains of the organisation.
Businesses are quite used to thinking in terms of "services", but this approach does not always permeate the IT department, often resulting in "push-back" from IT stakeholders. Barnard recommends that broad-based education across business and IT is an essential pre-requisite for a successful SOA vision to be implemented.
“An organisational shift in mindset is required from the tradition of viewing an organisation as a system across divisions and departments,” he says.
In addition, Barnard says the SA market is facing a grey area in SOA implementations, in the gap where the business process world links to IT processes.
“We are seeing organisations which are process mature, with well advanced process mapping, but these processes are still not effectively connected with underlying IT resources to enable a ‘live’ measurable process which can then be modified by business process owners,” he says.
The technology is available to close this gap, but due to the process initiative usually being driven by business, and traditional application integration being driven by IT, without the necessary paradigm shift, these will fail to combine and hence fail to yield the promise of SOA.
Barnard explains that the old view of businesses’ processes was one of application integration where different departments had fixed ways of exchanging information.
“Whenever there was a business change, the underlying models had to be rebuilt or significantly amended causing disruption to many facets of the operation," he says. "But in an SOA environment, the underlying processes have been decomposed and broken down into smaller components of granular functionality that can far more easily adapt to business changes.”
Barnard explains that SOA is a form of architecture, not merely a technology, that uses loosely-coupled services to support the requirements of business processes and users.
“Resources in a SOA environment are accessed without the user having knowledge of what is effectively happening beneath the business process," he says. "SOA enables business functions in different domains of the business to interact with each other more seamlessly. Processes can utilise services in a different order or sequence producing a different set of results without having to change the supporting technologies.”
Barnard adds that SOA is not a brand new product. In fact, it is not even a product that can be purchased and implemented, although global vendors sell various components that would fit into an overall SOA design.
“It is an architectural style – an IT evolution which can now effectively be used as a mechanism to enable business performance improvement," he says. "It goes beyond IT as its architectural framework applies to enabling business processes and is not just confined to IT, although the IT component is obviously a significant element of the SOA framework.
"SOA is not just for the IT community – it is a broader business issue,” he says.
“A move to a service- oriented vision enables business growth through a faster response to external changes, increased productivity, reduced operating costs and increased customer satisfaction.”