Take the technology out of SOA, and see what you get

McDonald's launches a human-based SOA, with interchangeable technology underneath.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

If you really want to see what service-oriented architecture is all about, build an SOA without technology. JP Morgenthal, principal with Avorcor, always seems to bring a clear-headed perspective to SOA challenges, and suggests exactly that: if you really want to determine the worth of SOA to your business, try setting it up without any particular technology in mind.

'SOA has nothing to do with IT. It is a design pattern that can be applied to any type of system in the world'

SOA planning often gets tangled up with technology, servers, and infrastructure. However, technology actually inhibits service-oriented thinking. Perhaps its time to to think of SOA purely in business process terms, and ignore technology altogether. 

JP seems to be good with food service analogies -- a couple of years back, he coined the phrase "lunchroom Web services" to describe the creation of services of no immediate impact to the business at hand. Think of creating a Web service that makes the daily menu available to employees -- "whoop-de-doo — I can deploy 5,000 lunchroom Web services in one afternoon," he said.

To illustrate his latest point, Morgenthal points to the ultimate food service operation -- McDonald's -- which is setting up what can be considered a "a human-based SOA." This human-based SOA is taking shape at McDonald's drive-up windows. McDonald's has been working on solutions that would improve the quality of the customer experience -- which, as many know, is hampered by background noise and communication problems.

"The solution is pure SOA and the only technology involved is purely telecommunications," JP explains. To improve quality of order fulfillment at the drive-thru window, McDonald's plans to connect its drive-through window ordering system with a call center. McDonald's turned its drive-up order-taking system into service, under which technologies and processes can be swapped out as needed. "They turned order taking into a service... that, if they choose to in the future, they can outsource with no impact to the processes that are in place."

JP observes that such a process fits the description of SOA: "If you design your system as a set of services, such that the service provider can be changed without impact to your processes, then you might be an SOA." He sums it up this way: "SOA has nothing to do with IT. It is a design pattern that can be applied to any type of system in the world."

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