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SOA and M&As: the power of two, or less than zero?

When Sperry Corporation merged with Burroughs Corporation a number of years ago to form Unisys, the combine ran a series of TV ads that bragged about offering "the Power of Two." Most mergers and acquisitions don't result in the Power of Two, of course -- they more likely give you the "Power of One and One-Quarter.

When Sperry Corporation merged with Burroughs Corporation a number of years ago to form Unisys, the combine ran a series of TV ads that bragged about offering "the Power of Two." Most mergers and acquisitions don't result in the Power of Two, of course -- they more likely give you the "Power of One and One-Quarter." Or sometimes, Less Than One, or even Less Than Zero.

Anyone who's been through a merger or acquisition (or has been a mergee or acquiree) knows the pain and suffering involved in merging systems -- and more often than not, the fallout consists of throwing away years worth of hard work because it won't fit into the grand new scheme of things.

That's why we must ask: Can Web services/SOA save M&A'ed operations from ensuing waste and duplication, and do a better job of supporting the new operation? Some companies are finding Web services to be a handy tool for taking some of the pain out of M&As, and keeping perfectly good systems online. In a consultant's report that appears in CIO, Bob Anderson and Eric Stettler, both with A.T. Kearney, observe that companies "have discovered that the benefits of seamless interoperability, platform independence, speed and cost can apply to merger and acquisition transactions as well."

They write: "'Don't destroy what you buy'" is a simple goal, yet exceedingly difficult to fulfill. Only half of all mergers create lasting shareholder value; and just under one-third exceed expected industry returns. Understanding exactly where and how value is created, and protecting those sources, will improve the odds for merger success."

This is where Web services and SOA come in. The deployment of applications through standardized, reusable services may help with the speed of bringing together separate systems, Anderson and Stettler say. "Speed is key to successful merger integration, and targeted Web service interfaces can help to quickly deliver IT synergies for functional areas. The IT organization becomes a key enabler of the resulting cost savings instead of a neutral participant."

Web services can help lower the costs of a merger or acquisition -- if the systems on both sides are Web services enabled. The A.T. Kearney consultants go on to note that "if the merging companies already have Web services functionality, the costs of IT integration should be minimal. However, for companies with older technology, the initial Web services investment at the time of the merger could be cost prohibitive." Of course, the fact that Web services are platform independent will go a long way in any integration attempt.

Can Web services and SOA make the difference? For anyone who's been M&A'ed, could Web services/SOA have alleviated some of the integration pain if the technologies were available?  Or do they just add another layer of complexity to an uncertain situation?