SOA or perish

Organizations must focus their development efforts around the creation of services. This will enable them to respond to changes in business conditions quickly and effectively. For this reason, the service-oriented architecture (SOA) is vital to a company's survival.

This is the view of Pierre Haren, chairman and chief executive officer of iLog Inc.

"The SOA is flexible and allows the company to be agile. Also, today, the business and technology cycles are speeding up, which means that businesses must adapt and respond to changing market conditions to remain viable.

A service-oriented architecture, which is essentially a collection of services (functions) that communicate with each other, will require an architecture to have many layers. Each layer has a set of specific rules for developers.

Haren was in Singapore recently as a guest speaker of the SiTF (Singapore IT Federation) Visiting Speaker Program.

Developers build an application by assembling "services", or software components that define reusable business functions. One of the main advantages of the SOA approach is that by building standards-based interfaces between components, developers can incrementally construct applications and swap out, reuse and modify components without having to concern themselves with their inner workings.

This means that applications can be changed rapidly and the mapping of processes onto services is automated. Business processes become key.

Business rules, which are the business logic built into systems, describe the core policies and operations. These describe what can or cannot be done for processes such as marketing, sales, distribution and billing. For example, processes that include business rules are a company's marketing strategy, pricing plan and administrative policies.

Since processes can be broken into individual functions, a company's business rules can be changed rapidly and easily by rearranging the processes.

To manage these processes, Haren spoke about business process management (BPM) which enables companies to manage the execution of their businesses while preserving their ability to change. With BPM products, processes are now considered as data that can be interpreted and executed by process engines. They are no longer defined with traditional programming languages. Such BPM tools provide support for managing the processes throughout their entire life cycle, with tools that support the collaboration between business people and the IT department.

BPM solutions allow changes with minimal technical impact. An easy-to-understand rule language allows business people to manage, track and change rules themselves. A full-featured rule editor provides tools that allow analysts to dynamically create, modify or delete business rules for -advanced process routing, business decision logic and task allocation. New rules are submitted in a controlled, auditable environment; automated best practices assure consistent operations. Changes are compliant with workflow editing tools, updating process-model templates without interrupting overall flow.

Haren cited the example of large companies in Europe and the United States which have taken three years to re-write their IT systems. "In today's context, that is unacceptable," he said.

Haren has this advice for companies planning to implement the SOA: Do it gradually. Take a part of the company that is most subject to change, for example, billing systems that have to take into account compliance issues.

"ROI (return on investment) decisions are not as important as conventional wisdom would have it. The situation is not as rational as all that. SOA is something that businesses are forced to do for survival."

Haren gave this analogy to illustrate his point: If someone puts a pistol to your temple and forces you to change or perish, which would you choose?

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