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Microservices Journal: Article

Rethink SOA - A Recipe for Business Transformation

Imagine you had the ability to create an entirely new business offering, unlike anything available from your competition

One sure fire way to keep budget and buzz away from your projects is for you and your department to be associated with incremental improvement. Projects can generally be classified into two categories. The first is "business transformation," which includes projects that generate excitement.  The second category is for projects that fund incremental improvement to what is frequently considered the "cost center," often with a strong ROI but seriously lacking when it comes to excitement... And without excitement comes underfunded and understaffed projects likely to underachieve the goals they set out to accomplish.

So where does SOA belong? Is it one of the most powerful weapons in the business transformation arsenal or is it merely a tool for the cost center to provide incremental improvement? If we look at the traditional benefits of SOA, such as re-use of services, agility, scalability, and visibility, then SOA brings incremental improvement to the infrastructure. Although this incremental improvement can provide impressive returns that easily justify the investment, they are still more incremental than transformative to the business.

Imagine you had the ability to create an entirely new business offering, unlike anything available from your competition in just a few months.

How would you accomplish this? From a packaged application? Highly unlikely since it's available worldwide, meaning there is no barrier to entry for your competitors.  Build a one-of-a-kind application from scratch?  After a year or more of development, your first-to-market advantage is lost.

How can business transformation take place in such a short time frame?  Of the many aspects of a comprehensive SOA platform, such as service creation, service orchestration, governance, integration and business rules, there is one aspect of SOA that provides the key enabler to rapid business transformation. It's not new to SOA but seriously underappreciated for its potential.  It is the "composite application" that provides the ability to rapidly create an entirely new application, composed of a mix of existing and new re-usable services, unlike any other application in the world in short order. Take a moment to think of other technologies providing the ability to rapidly deliver an entirely new business offering.  If you came up with anything else... it's a pretty short list.

What is so special about the composite application? Take a look at the following scenario:

In a few months' time:

  • Create a first-to-market application that combines a voice recognition service with a social media API
  • Use a cloud service to translate a Facebook event stream into a speaking voice inside a vehicle
  • Post an audio update to a Facebook profile to update the Facebook status of the driver of the car

You have just tapped into a new business channel where over 700 billion minutes per month are spent.  Equally important was the fact that 75% of this project was already completed before the project even started.

This may sound far-fetched but it is in production today. New business offerings derived directly by SOA are numerous at OnStar where they treat SOA as a key enabler for new business initiatives instead of as merely a tool to provide incremental improvement.

OnStar is one of a growing number of leading edge companies rethinking SOA. These companies have the necessary ingredients of innovation combined with an understanding that they can "Rethink SOA" from "incrementalism" into the driving force of their business transformation strategy. Although the number of companies is small today, it's easy to tell when a company has moved beyond SOA incrementalism. When speaking about their Oracle SOA Suite implementation, OnStar's Chief Architect Doug Mutart speaks less about the traditional SOA benefits of efficiency, re-use, etc. and instead refers to bringing entirely new projects to life. For example, when OnStar needed new channels through mobile devices such as the iPhone and other smartphones, a key enabler was SOA. Mutart states:

"The flexibility of SOA has enabled us to bring these projects to life."

-Doug Mutart, Chief Architect, OnStar

To deliver the mobile composite application before the launch of the Chevrolet Volt, OnStar leveraged existing services to back-end customer data and applications, transforming OnStar into a leading edge provider through new distribution channels enabled by SOA.

OnStar iPhone App Enabled by SOA
Additional examples include a European government launching entirely new composite applications such as eBirth to immediately update all health care practitioners who have a need-to-know about the birth of a baby, and "police-on-web" that lets citizens report crimes such as theft, graffiti and shoplifting.

Why is this new mindset to SOA so important? Because projects associated with business transformation get the executive sponsorship, budget, and access to key resources needed to ensure success. Projects associated with incremental improvement however are hit-and-miss...sometimes you get what you need and other times you are in the mode of "doing more with less" which translates to doing more work with less staff, less budget, and less likelihood of success.

How does one begin the process of rethinking SOA to take advantage of the opportunity of SOA, and specifically service-based composite applications within SOA, provides? To rethink SOA from incrementalism into business transformation through SOA, here is a recipe:

Rethink SOA - A Recipe for Business Transformation

  1. Start Before you Start: Thanks to the concept of Shared Services, in which services are built with the intention of re-use for future applications, each new project has the ability to incorporate existing services from previous projects.  Over time, new projects start with 30 to 75 percent of the project already completed before the project has even started.
  2. Know your "Sustainable Competitive Advantages": Although you can't look into the future to know what composite applications you will want, you can look within your organization to determine what foundational services align with your Sustainable Competitive Advantages.  These are the subset of competitive advantages your company has that cannot easily be matched by your competition.
  3. Develop Your "Strategic Service Portfolio": Building a foundation doesn't happen overnight.  This is also true for the service foundation of what will become the crown jewel of your company, a service portfolio that lets you consistently assemble new composite applications to market faster than your competition.  Based on your Sustainable Competitive Advantage, develop a vision for your "Strategic Service Portfolio" to grow your corporate crown jewel over time.
  4. Don't Build Every Service for Re-use: On average, it costs 50 percent extra to make a service re-usable, so don't waste time and money making every service re-usable. Now that you have a vision for your Strategic Service Portfolio, focus your re-use efforts only on those services that build the foundation for future composite applications. Fortunately, the break-even point has been shown to come from a single re-use of a service for your next composite application.
  5. Assemble and Configure: Rather than custom coding new applications, think assemble and configure. Assemble existing services and instead of adding custom code for the new services of the composite application, use a graphical "composite editor."   Visual development allows everyone on the collaborative team to more rapidly understanding the project and eases downstream maintenance.
  6. Immunize Against the "Antibodies": Although new and innovative projects will generative the excitement and buzz required to properly fund the project, you will undoubtedly encounter others in your organization resistant to change known as the antibodies.  Even if you do your homework and can justify your project, the antibodies will attempt to slow your progress. Find executive sponsorship, which for SOA often exists in the Annual Report with statements about the company focused on increasing customer satisfaction, leveraging social media, Enterprise 2.0 collaboration with customers, customer self-service and more.  SOA provides the ideal foundation to realize these goals and measure their success.
  7. Get Connected: Chances are, your vendor is providing you and your company a win-win opportunity for free publicity and a chance to broaden your network...Good for your career and for your company.  Oracle for example offers customer success podcasts, webcasts, case studies, videos, press releases and more. Selfishly take advantage of these to broaden your network with like-minded professionals to share lessons learned as you embark on your path to rethinking SOA to a higher level.

Oracle SOA Suite 11g is an integrated, best-of-breed suite that helps customers rapidly design and assemble, deploy and manage, highly agile and adaptable business applications.

For more Oracle SOA Suite customer innovation case studies, follow Oracle SOA Suite on Twitter and Facebook

More Stories By Bruce Tierney

Bruce Tierney is the Director of Product Marketing for the Oracle SOA Suite. He is the author of “Eight Secrets of SOA Success for Business Integration” and has delivered SOA and business integration presentations globally to help companies optimize and simplify business integration.

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