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Great Article on Service-Oriented Architecture

May 11, 2006


Yesterday, Tom Barnett, Senior Managing Director at Enterra Solutions®, and I met with Accenture CTO, Donald Rippert. Fortuituously, he had just published an excellent article in the Financial Times.

PERSONAL VIEW: “The building blocks of a simpler future are in place,” by Donald J. Rippert, Financial Times, 10 May 2006, p. 2.

Tom, who most of you know is a prolific blogger, read the article and wrote about it in his blog prior to our meeting. Tom’s comments, which included an extensive quote from Rippert’s article, were excellent and they set the stage for much of what we are trying to accomplish at Enterra Solutions. Here is what Tom wrote:

I’ve been looking for this article for a long time: a simple, direct, easily understood intro and overview of what SOA (pronounced, SO-ah by most, although the use of the indefinite article ‘an’ below suggests the Brits like to spell it out instead) really means. It is a crucial construct and development in the IT world that makes possible what we do in Enterra with regard to rule-set automation.

I am going to quote at length here:

Imagine a future where IT systems are not created by computer analysts speaking the languages of Java and C but instead by business managers speaking the languages of supply chain, customer service or product development.

It is a future made possible by Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)–an evolution in the way enterprise IT systems can be built…

Today, businesses either build and maintain custom applications (such as invoice processing or personnel systems) at great cost, or they conform their business processes and organization to pre-packaged software applications.

Both of these approaches have helped automate business processes but have become operationally and intellectually threadbare in recent years.

The usually pejorative phrase “legacy system” was coined to describe old, custom applications that have grown hard to maintain and almost impossible to replace, whereas packaged software brings its own set of challenges since modifying it to meet the needs of a particular business is expensive and risky…

With an SOA, business applications are constructed of independent, reusable, interoperable services that can be reconfigured without vast amounts of technical labor…

The fundamental building blocks of an SOA are web services… An SOA is a collection of web services brought together to accomplish business tasks (checking a customer’s credit, for example, or generating an invoice)…

Because these services are accessed through a standard, they provide unprecedented flexibility: business processes can be added or altered quickly; software applications can be integrated easily.

Because the services can interact with systems outside a single organization, they provide the ability for companies to collaborate with customers and suppliers. And because services are simpler than hard-wired applications, they lower maintenance costs…

Heard it all before? You probably have. People have been talking about taking the programmer out of programming for decades. So what is different now?

In a word, standards are what set SOA apart from previous generations of integration technologies, which were largely proprietary to each vendor. The standards behind SOA have been around in some form for a few years, but they are just reaching maturity…

… perhaps the most compelling impact of SOA is how it stands to rewrite the rules on IT governance and organizational structure. In most organizations, IT managers tend to be linked with the specific applications they support. Because SOA delivers the promise of solutions that transcend lines of businesses–and the organizations themselves–IT managers , newly decoupled from applications they manage, will have a broader view of the potential they can deliver.

Once IT speaks the same language as business, it will be primed to design services that help companies bring distinctive capabilities, products and services to market quickly.

The article then goes on to describe the “journey” of SOA adoption as roughly 4-5years in length and outlines some of the key challenges and decision points.

Tom went on to say:

What is so cool for me on this is three-fold:

1) I now get Enterra that much better in terms of how our products excite IT professionals so, plus the whole timing of the market issue (Enterra’s stuff is made possible by our own patented technologies + the rise of SOA–explaining the “right here, right now” appeal we possess for big companies looking to partner with us.)

2) SOA is like the purest expression of IT’s emerging role in globalization: Gap countries don’t need big legacy systems to sign on; they can take advantage of web-based services to wire themselves up to the GIG (global info grid) at far lower costs and complexity. What we seek to offer via Development-in-a-Box, then, is that sort of simple, direct, clean, rules-defined connectivity for the economy, government and society as a whole. We say, there is a SOA that defines the global economy, or more to the point in my vision, one that defines the Functioning Core of that globalization process. If you want to join that Core in the fastest, easiest way possible, here is the preconfigured package of templates that allow your state to get wired up in terms of trade connectivity, info connectivity, security connectivity, healthcare connectivity, energy connectivity, etc. We’ll give you those templates (both the hardware and software) as part of this reconstruction/recovery package, because we know we’ll move you up the connectivity chain fastest and most easily this way, thus empowering your people most rapidly, and allowing our economies to tap your cheap labor and resulting purchasing power also most rapidly. You win, because you pull yourselves out of whatever conflict/disaster/failure/poverty kept you down before, and we win in three ways: 1) we don’t have to come back again and intervene; 2) we’ve just created a virgin market that benefits us economically; and

3) by extending globalization’s SOA, or the Core’s network of standards and rule sets, we extend transparency and security and reduce the off-grid, ungovernable areas that define the operating domain of bad actors in general and transnational terrorists in particular.

Now, you may think I’m getting way too excited about SOA, but I’m not. I’m just exhibiting the joy that is horizontal thinking: I now feel like I have this huge allied force on my side that’s called the SOA commnity in the IT world, and knowing that they represent the wave of the future simply makes me that much more optimistic in my quest to change the world for the better and end war as we know it.

The rest of the story is that we had a great meeting and see exciting opportunities for Accenture and Enterra Solutions to work together around the globe. It is always invigorating to meet with someone who shares your vision and enthusiasm about the future.

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