Accentuating SOA laboratory project’s goal

Healthcare will be initial focus

Accenture recently announced a US$450 million (NZ$727 million) service-oriented architecture initiative that includes building a new research laboratory and developing tailored SOA applications for specific industries. The IT services firm says its SOA technology lab will initially focus on the healthcare industry through an e-prescription project that’s aimed at integrating the various steps involved in filling a prescription.

Don Rippert, Accenture’s chief technology officer, spoke recently to Computerworld US about the three-year SOA effort, which will be centred around model-driven development.

What’s the philosophy behind the SOA initiative?

SOA has to be led by the business process, not by the technology. You can change your application, by changing the business processes as they are defined in a modelling tool, without having to change the application code.

The application software and the [hardware] platform on which it runs are a means to an end. But like client/server or net-centric [architectures], this is something that takes time to achieve at the full benefits level.

What do you see as the main role of the SOA laboratory that you’re setting up?

They’re looking at application development approaches that we think will be mainstream in three to four years.

They’ll be writing a fourth-generation [healthcare] application in the labs, where we bring together functionality that we expect to see a doctor, a pharmacy and an insurer using ... and come up with solutions to [address] those problems.

How do I get past the data access problems and the service definition problems? I need a more flexible approach to data access that doesn’t need to be optimised transaction-by-transaction. We will then use what we learn to guide the rest of Accenture.

Why did you decide to focus first on the healthcare industry?

The costs are very high industry-wide for medical services, and it involves multiple independent organisations. No one company prescribes medicine, dispenses it and pays for it.

We wanted an environment where there are multiple different companies with multiple different platforms that had to come together to improve a business process.

I wanted something that people could pretty quickly understand functionally. Pretty much everyone has gotten a prescription. I don’t have to spend a lot of time describing what it is and how you get it.

What are some of the cultural challenges for IT managers associated with this type of shift in application development?

Just as the CIO is in charge of the corporate data model now, in the future that same CIO will be in charge of the corporate process model to make sure that changes to process x don’t inadvertently negatively affect process y.

The CIOs in all companies that move to SOA will have to bulk up on people with process knowledge. It’s probably the biggest governance issue we see.

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