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Moving SOA beyond 'service oriented integration'

"All this money is going into ESBs and Web services, and they get a dozen or two integration projects going, but are they getting any business value out of that? I don't see it.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

"All this money is going into ESBs and Web services, and they get a dozen or two integration projects going, but are they getting any business value out of that? I don't see it."

-Anne Thomas Manes, quoted in SearchCIO

There's been a simmering debate going on out there about the ultimate purpose of SOA -- is it for integration, or for a "higher" purpose? Loraine Lawson has been tracking the argument back and forth. She calls out Anne Thomas Manes' and Todd Biske's remarks that SOI, or service oriented integration, serves a more limited purpose than SOA.

To quote Todd's definition of SOI:

SOI, service-oriented integration, is probably best stated as WSOI -- Web Services-Oriented Integration. It’s simply the act of taking the same integration points that arise in a project and using Web services or some other XML over HTTP approach to integrate the systems. Could this constitute a service-oriented application architecture? Absolutely, but in my mind, there is at best incremental benefits in this approach versus some other integration technology.

A new article by Christina Torode lends credence to the higher-purpose side of SOA, noting that spending millions of dollars on SOA simply to achieve application integration is overkill.  Rather, SOA efforts should be linked to wider-reaching business process management (BPM) initiatives.

Torode provides some examples of SOA as business transformation enabler:

  • A marketing company employed SOA practices to overhaul 20-year-old, siloed business processes it used to produce printable coupons for retail customers. However, the IT department, which feared being outsourced, resisted the change. By bringing all units of the business together, and helping all parties recognize that they could employ SOA to help eliminate redundant processes and cut operational costs here by 50%, "the business started to own SOA."
  • At a telecommunications company, SOA played a key role in a reorganization that reduced product turnaround times. The CIO regrouped the staff to reflect business processes rather than business units. "The SOA portion, including the staff reorganization, has allowed IT to develop generic, reusable services that are fine-tuned to fit a business unit's request, versus building a new service from scratch every time a business unit wants to launch a new product."

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