How SOA hits home: Five ways SOA makes a difference

Commentary--One of the most valuable and often overlooked benefits of an SOA strategy is the impact it has on the regular consumer, says IBM's Sandy Carter.

Commentary--One of the most valuable and often overlooked benefits of an Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) strategy is the impact it has on the general population. From helping reduce home energy bills, to saving money on car insurance, to safeguarding your retirement investments, SOA is quickly becoming a critical (albeit invisible) ally for today's consumers.

Below are five examples illustrating how SOA is playing a role in our everyday lives:

1. SOA can reduce your energy bill.
Consider the Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL)'s Olympic Peninsula Demand Response Demonstration study that's being funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. PNNL is working with 300 volunteers in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and Gresham, Oregon to monitor home electricity usage and billing. The homeowners set how much they want to spend per month on energy and are alerted when usage should be modified to defray strain on the National Grid and stay within the established monthly charges. Invisible to the consumer, the SOA connects PNNL with the participants so that they can exchange information about real-time pricing information on their energy usage and costs as well as the consumer's impact on the National Grid.

2. SOA helps identify and prevent consumer insurance fraud.
When a consumer applies for life insurance, an insurer or healthcare provider usually consults with MIB, the largest specialty consumer reporting agency for insurance fraud detection in North America. An association of more than 500 health and life insurance companies, MIB was created to provide consumers and insurance providers with vital underwriting information about life, health, disability, income, critical illness, and long-term care insurance. MIB has created an SOA to allow its subscribers to detect potential fraud based on facts such as the applicant’s insurance and medical history; the proximity of marriage, establishment of a life insurance policy and a spouse’s untimely death, and the frequency of auto accidents resulting in medical claims. The SOA is vital to MIB identify and prevent insurance fraud that impacts the overall cost of insurance to every consumer.

3. SOA can save you money on car insurance.
Since insurance rates are regulated by each state, there is little margin for competitive pricing, which leaves the local and regional players facing serious competition against the national carriers. However, AAA Carolinas used its small size and flexible infrastructure to its advantage as it built an SOA that boosted its customer acquisition and retention rate by 60 percent in just a few years.

Specifically, AAA Carolinas used its SOA to cross-reference customer information from its 30 regional offices to create unique marketing campaigns based on customers’ individual needs such as insurance discounts for carrying one or more policies or travel discounts for members who purchase an insurance policy, etc. By providing more compelling offers on insurance, credit cards, etc. AAA Carolinas was able to shave part of their profit margin in order to capture greater revenue gains through their innovative offerings.

4. SOA will help protect you in an emergency.
An SOA is behind the efforts of the St. Louis Area Regional Response System (STARRS) to improve response times in an emergency--from a simple traffic accident to a large-scale disaster. Until recently, local hospital and first responders communicated via a 30 year old radio system so you can imagine the challenges this presented with regard to tracking and triaging victims. The STARRS emergency patient tracking system enables first responders to relay patient data from the scene of the incident to hospitals and other authorized public officials in real time while providing a complete view of the situation so that emergency personnel can be diverted as the situation dictates.

5. SOA can safeguard your retirement investments.
Imagine yourself on a telecon strategy session with an Ameriprise advisor to discuss the status of your early retirement plan. Securely integrated and displayed on the advisor’s computer screen is your portfolio, scrolling stock tickers, links to execute stock trades, international news headlines, and various other applications that are used to assist the advisor in making sound financial decisions. The ability to easily integrate these various sources of information and better advise clients on financial strategies is one of the many benefits of Ameriprise’s SOA.

These successful SOA examples can--and are--being replicated by energy providers, insurers, financial services companies, and federal and local municipalities worldwide. From these scenarios it’s clear to see the value that an SOA can deliver in boosting customer satisfaction and a company’s bottom line.

Sandy Carter is vice president, SOA and WebSphere Strategy, Channels, and Marketing, for IBM.