From the outset, the fundamental view of service-oriented architecture (SOA) was to complete the enterprise architecture, says Kevin Poulter, Application Technology Manager at British American Tobacco.
According to Poulter, SOA has evolved a great deal over the past few years. But there are still a number of issues that need to be resolved. “The challenges faced by service-oriented architectures today are not the same as a few years back,” says Poulter.
One such challenge, he says, is that at the beginning of the decade, the technology available was insufficient for the processes that it needed to deliver. But over the past five years, technology has matured to meet the strategic requirements of event-driven architecture.
Yonadav Yuval, head of integration for Europe at General Motors, cites another drawback – the customer. Yuval claims that the customer’s perception of SOA has evolved greatly over the past few years. “It is this challenge, rather than technological challenges, which needed to be overcome,” he says.
This has certainly been manifest in the shifting nature of the company-customer relationship. Since 2000, businesses have become increasingly accustomed to outsourcing IT services with external partners.
Apart from technological advancements and customer perception, says Yuval, the public nature of web services versus the proprietary nature of software has meant that we can now interact with a larger community.
Martin Yates, head of reengineering services and global equities IT at Deutsche Bank, claims that SOA is now able to deliver more information to a larger group of people much more quickly. And increasingly, he adds, SOA is being used to manage business processes.
But as SOA migrates more and more into a public realm and the customer becomes increasingly involved in the equation, are companies promoting corporate pandemonium?
XHEAD: Chaos within, chaos without
One school of thought is that the so-called ‘chaos’ created by linking SOAs through web services empowers customers to orchestrate business processes.
But Poulter asserts that as long as companies manage IT from a business process perspective rather than a services perspective, they should not run into trouble.
“Although the customer’s involvement may have increased, but in the end, customers don’t have the power to dictate how companies should govern their business. “If SOA were kept within the microenvironment, there would be more control,” argues Poulter.
Martin Yates, head of reengineering services and global equities IT at Deutsche Bank, adds: “Business processes may also then be quicker, since the decision-making process would be much quicker.”
Yuval argues, however, that companies have not necessarily crossed the Rubicon by implementing web services and SOA. “SOA is just another tool, a sharper pencil,” he says. “It is the hype at present, but we still have many other tools. In many ways, SOA has taken off where ERP [enterprise resource planning] was left behind. ERP, too, tried to align resources. We know how to manage our IT infrastructure. Web services are not novel in that respect.”
XHEAD: A design for life
But can SOA really help businesses themselves to run more effectively? Yates maintains that it all depends on the design and processes of the SOA at the outset.
According to Yuval, SOA and web services in general forces information architects to drill deeper into the fundamental elements that make a company function.
One thing they all agree on is this: flexibility is key when it comes to SOA.
If IT professionals want to change an organisation, they must first understand exactly how it operates. Only then will the true value of SOA be attained.