"Our existing approaches to integration and application development were costly to implement and sustain, fragmented and hard to consolidate, and time-consuming and slow to deliver value," says Kevin Poulter, application development manager for British American Tobacco, explaining why his company adopted an SOA approach. IN a recent issue of Optimize, he notes, "[W]e found that SOA's true benefits begin to emerge only when a business shifts its IT orientation from a technology-architecture focus to a business-architecture focus. For us, this is a different way of thinking that ensures that new IT assets are built to be SOA-ready. We hope that a business-architecture focus will have long-term benefits, enabling different architectural layers to evolve independently and embrace composite applications. For the business, that means quicker solutions, lower costs, and greater agility."
BAT, which has more than 50 brands in its portfolio and 90,000 employees, is now rollling out its SOA worldwide. Such efforts are expected to enhance the competitive agility of the company and strengthen its ability to deliver innovative IT solutions to certain business areas. Moreover, it enhances the organization's ability to consolidate IT and implement shared services in other areas.
"SOA is a great fit with these two conflicting objectives," he explains. "One goal is to rapidly implement local-market initiatives at a much lower cost than previously possible. For example, we'd like to trim our overall application integration to roughly 40% of previous costs, while supporting a global ERP-consolidation program. We want to reduce approximately 65 ERP instances to eight by mid-2008. We also want to implement a number of global SAP and NetWeaver applications, including human resources, product life-cycle management, and supply-chain management. Our architectural vision for how SOA will shape our future IT is completely aligned with SAP's, and we plan to take advantage of its Enterprise Services Architecture strategy as soon as possible."
Past SOA efforts -- involving multiple partners -- seem to have only increased confusion. "To overcome this market uncertainty, we decided early to be very practical," he adds. "We strive to eliminate the technical complexity of business-service creation and management, both inside and outside the enterprise...Our IT department, led by CIO Phil Cook, supports this viewpoint wholeheartedly. By late 2002, we had developed an SOA direction; a year later, we had a well-defined vision. IT created that vision and is responsible for implementing the core SOA infrastructure and the supporting services. As a result, we have a global-service registry and the capabilities to manage those services throughout their life cycle. IT is also responsible for leading the adoption of SOA business solutions to deliver greater agility and business value."
In addition, the company has a "global Enterprise Integration Community of Practice" to coordinate the global SOA initiative and local ones as well. It includes 15-20 architects who drive the strategy. "We developed our SOA plan after consulting with internal stakeholders, external analysts, and industry experts with a wide range of software and hardware knowledge," Poulter says. "We set a plan to first select a technology platform on which we could build and extend existing and new business solutions. There were five key considerations: a relatively short time to develop applications; simplicity to learn; ease of managing, collaborating on, and deploying applications; support for Web services and SOA development; and compliance with an application-development tools strategy."
Now, BAT is moving from pilot projects to operational deployments. With the infrastructure and resources in place, it intends to roll out an array of projects throughout 2005 and 2006.
The most significant challenges in the transition are "skill-set migration and application conversion. Because the applications are deployed as J2EE, we've seen huge savings in time, productivity, and expenses," he adds. "In fact, using Web services to integrate applications over the past two years has demonstrated savings of 60% to 70% over traditional hard-coded integration...We've also recognized the need to factor SOA into our future architecture plans. By deploying this solution, we not only save money and improve productivity immediately, but we also get a head start on full enterprise adoption of SOA longer term."
Another powerful benefit of SOA is that it unifies all all of BAT's developers around a single approach and set of expectations. "One of the misconceptions of moving to an SOA is that it's a huge challenge to work with existing assets, such as legacy applications, while leveraging developer skill sets and still maintain an acceptable level of developer productivity," he adds. "Though we have no doubt about the value of SOA, reaping the largest return on investment depends on selecting the most flexible development platform. We're building a scalable platform so our developers can rapidly create SOA applications in well-formed J2EE code. We're confident that this will enable the loosely coupled business services that are needed in today's complex infrastructures...As a result of our efforts, BAT developers now model rather than code, which lets them build highly decoupled services and processes at a much faster pace. This significantly reduces the high costs associated with retraining diverse skill sets, expert application integration, and technology assimilation."