Nine places where SOA is making a difference, right now

Sure, SOA received an inordinate amount of hype in 2007. But here are some companies that are putting it to work

What kind of a year was 2007 for SOA? Yes, there was plenty of disgust and eye-rolling at all the hype around this still-emerging concept. But at the same time, we started seeing more and more examples of companies putting the methodologies and associated tools and platforms to innovative uses. Can ROI be far behind? Some companies report seeing it already, proof that SOA isn't necessarily some pie-in-the-sky dream foisted on us by vendor marketing departments.

Here are examples of areas where SOA has been put to work over the past year, gathered from my blog posts here at ZDNet as well as over at ebizQ:

To transform from a product-centric to a customer-oriented culture. BT (formerly British Telecom) employed SOA to undergo a transformation from a product-centric culture to a customer-oriented culture. As a result of SOA, BT had been able to close down close to 800 systems, with plans to close down another 700 to 900 systems. Even more important than system consolidation has been the change in organizational philosophy: BT’s SOA proponents have been able to evolve the company’s focus from maintaining operations to concentrating on the customer experience. Now, even BT’s CEO is talking about services such as "order to cash." BT intends to be fully SOA enabled by 2009, and its SOA deployment now covers up to 3,500 core systems, built on 14 platforms.

To run the world's largest particle accelerator. Event-driven SOA is now being employed for the monitoring controls at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). Interestingly, the project is powered by Java-based technologies, not Web services. The SOA-based system takes readings from 30,000 gauges and publishes them to an enterprise service bus. Technicians at workstations and PC browsers — as well as autonomic systems and auditing databases–subscribe to the service readings.

To tie together customer service data for faster problem resolution. Comcast has been employing SOA methodologies to better connect customer service activities, and thus avoid such gaps in analyzing network problems. With tens of thousands of technicians on staff, just saving 15 minutes a day in productivity for each could save Comcast $100 million a year. The company’s 20,000 customer service technicians originally had to look through 10 or more applications to attempt to solve problems. Now, a unified call center and problem resolution portal not only helps its staff save time and money, but the same services are also now made available to technicians over their mobile phones as well as to customers. The portal includes information about service across neighborhoods.

To facilitate master data management. Pfizer used SOA to bring together data assets from across its global enterprise into a single, centralized data definition. For example, the company had four to five definitions of what ‘customer’ meant. Pfizer turned to SOA to decouple its data from its applications, such as SAP, Oracle, and WebLogic. SOA was employed as the mechanism through which you begin distributing data. The team generated a standard set of interfaces for accessing its MDM tool and deployed it into its SOA architecture.

To better integrate disparate vendor products. Intel turned to SOA to reduce the amount of resources being put into point-to-point types of integration between various enterprise packages. The company was spending an inordinate amount of development capacity in both developing and then sustaining those integrations as vendors would change their products. Intel reports that it has seen a return on investment “in excess of tens of millions of dollars” as a result of its three-year-old SOA effort.

To bring together heavy-duty manufacturing systems. Bombardier, a major aerospace company, implemented SOA to address its huge backend integration challenges, which managed to bring 100 interfaces to its SOA layer from all parts of the business. The SOA-based Bombardier Manufacturing Information System brought together eight manufacturing systems resulting in 64 mission-critical real-time interfaces. The company accomplished 100 mission-critical interfaces using 14 protocols, 10 messaging formats across internal and external systems and network topology.

As a centralized online learning environment. The State University of New York, which encompasses 64 campuses, 30,000 faculty members, and 414,000 students, brought together disparate registration and e-learning systems into a common environment using SOA techniques. Previously, the university's distance learning program was built on top of a centralized Lotus Notes/Domino system. As the system grew, integration of the distance learning system with other campus systems proved to be a real challenge, particularly with student identity. Each campus had its own student information system (SIS), and students taking both classroom and online courses had to go through a double registration process, resulting in double enrollments.

As a compliance management environment. USinternetworking, an on-demand hosting provider and AT&T subsidiary, found it challenging to automate or manage business processes around systems audits for its many large clients -- processes which require a lot of paperwork. Often, managers would end up re-keying information from binders of information into separate reporting systems. The company deployed SOA with several components of Oracle Fusion Middleware to capture and leverage the information coming out of these systems into standardized cross-system services. The USinternetworking team also found that compliance mandates are a good way to get support from management for SOA initiatives.

To improve enterprise search. Merrill Lynch's Enterprise Data Solutions unit is employing an underlying SOA infrastructure to support an enterprise search and discovery portal. The company developed a single integrated portal, capable of searching 34 million records from nine separate systems.