Born to be service-oriented

SOA in HOG heaven: it's all about the loose coupling

One of the goals of this Weblog is to go beyond theories and talk about actual examples of SOA at work. Such is the case with Harley-Davidson. Last month at an IBM press conference, CIO Jim Haney explained how SOA has helped the company embrace opportunities in the spring riding season.

The story received plenty of trade press coverage, so I won't repeat all the details. But it is worth noting that Harley-Davidson's example shows how loose coupling can go right to the business bottom line. (Remember the 13th IT Commandment: Thou shalt loosely couple.) 

Here's how loose coupling had a direct impact on Harley-Davidson's business: When the weather warms up, people begin to wander into Harley's showrooms with visions of the wind whipping through their hair on an open roadway. "We have specific marketing programs geared towards that customer base," he explained. "Those programs are targeted to get those people that are dreaming about motorcycles to actually purchase one. We want to put together a good financial package to entice and incite people to get into the sport."

Enter Harley's credit and loan origination process. Until recently, however, the financial services applications were tightly coupled, and thus weren't very flexible, Haney explained. Making a change in one program meant having to go in and change countless other applications as well. "The way our systems are very tightly coupled, being very rigid from how they are architected, if we made one change to one of those systems that supports one of those processes, we basically have to touch all of the systems."

The answer? Break it all up. "We actually busted apart all of those systems, and put the SOA with WebSphere in the middle of all that," Haney said. "We loosely coupled these things. Our goal is to be able to change any one of those systems. If we see key indicators in the industry, we want to very quickly put different marketing programs in place, and not have to go and touch and test every single system."

If ever there was a case of IT agility supporting new business opportunities, this is it. "We can bring applications to the forefront as services, and arrange them differently," Haney said. "But more importantly, we can change an application, and do it quickly. We can be a lot more responsive to the business, which helps us sell motorcycles -- the business we're in."