Eliminate integration headaches with a service-oriented architecture

With all the attention that service-oriented architecture and Web services are getting, I thought I'd fast forward to a time when every organization has implemented SOA and Web services to some extent.

What would business be like without IT integration? What if your CEO could acquire another firm and integrate its information and operations into the existing business and IT architecture without the integration challenges? What if the acquired firm's business processes could seamlessly integrate with yours with zero latency? What if there was no integration effort required at all? What if the IT systems were "preintegrated," where they could exchange information without any incremental integration expense and effort?

Imagine how business would be without two factors that have become ingrained in our expectations of IT today: the IT integration hurdles that attend every business initiative, and the inevitable time lag between the need for the business initiative and the ability of the IT organization to deliver it on time. This is the "zero integration enterprise," and SOA is the way to get there.

So what is the zero integration enterprise? It is an organization whose business and IT teams are committed to the precepts of SOA and Web services. These organizations see the business value and strategic advantages of SOA, and are migrating their organization, processes, applications and skills to support the concept of services, specifically Web services. But before we define the characteristics of a zero integration enterprise, let's examine why this is such an important concept. It starts with IT complexity, and complexity has created the need for IT integration.

Where did all this IT complexity come from? Accumulation of legacy assets. Why is most of your IT budget focused backward on maintaining the past rather than looking ahead to supporting the future? I call this rearview-mirror budgeting.

This rearview-mirror budgeting problem is legendary among CIOs and is partly responsible for the lack of strategic IT investment that is possible for CIOs today. How backward-committed is your IT budget? What percentage of the IT budget is allocated to maintaining your legacy investments rather than focused on forward-facing initiatives that help move the organization ahead? This is a real challenge for both business and IT executives today, and it must be addressed.

At what point does IT complexity become an obstacle to business goals and an impediment to achieving even IT's goals? My hypothesis is that complexity becomes intolerable for firms when the following actions have been taken or are under consideration:

  1. The firm is hiring a chief architect.
  2. The organization creates a central architecture team.
  3. The firm acquires or develops an enterprise application integration (EAI) solution.
  4. The organization forms an internal integration or middleware team.

If you have one or more of these things in place, your organization is at the point where your integration burden is consuming IT resources, compounding the existing complexity problem and inhibiting business and IT effectiveness. You most likely have a rearview-mirror IT budget, and you are ready to try a new approach. The approach is SOA and Web services, and the goal is the zero integration enterprise.

What is a zero integration enterprise like? This organization can launch new business initiatives faster than its competitors because less IT integration is required to support various business projects. This time-to-market benefit allows faster response to business conditions, customer requirements, competitive threats and increased innovation.

This organization has a higher return on assets and greater IT productivity than its peer companies due to the asset-related benefits of SOA, such as software component reuse, Web services reuse and extending the capabilities of existing IT systems and infrastructure.

This organization launches new software applications faster than before with reduced effort due to component and Web services reuse. Building upon proven software and services capabilities, the organization spends less time developing new code and more time focusing on business process issues.

This organization uses the 30% of its IT budget previously used for integration projects to solve strategic business problems such as improving customer satisfaction, reducing time to market for new products and increasing sales through various IT initiatives.

This organization implements concepts of agility and flexibility through its SOA initiatives. Agility is reality and is measured by unambiguous metrics. A preintegrated enterprise has the following characteristics:

  • An agile business model that can quickly respond to business challenges, competitive threats and customer needs.
  • Greater customer focus deriving from reduced effort spent on internal integration and more effort spent on customer satisfaction, partner communication and efficient business processes.
  • A business-focused IT organization that no longer must concern itself with assuring interoperability issues but rather can focus on forward-looking strategic issues.
  • A flexible IT architecture, based on SOA and Web services, that facilitates superior business performance, enables world-class business processes and is highly efficient with all corporate resources.

Achieving the zero integration enterprise is no simple matter, regardless of how compelling the benefits are. The zero integration enterprise must first be an executive mandate for the entire organization, and that mandate begins with three simple actions:

  1. Implement SOA and Web services immediately.
  2. Stop integrating now (or integrate with integrating).
  3. Enforce asset and services reuse organizationwide ASAP.

Issuing this mandate to your business and IT organizations is a commitment for the long haul. This is not a fad. This is not a quick fix. And it is not going to be easy. Moreover, the organizational and cultural issues of SOA are as significant as the technology and infrastructure issues. That said, SOA and Web services can help your business, they can enable efficiency, they can reduce costs, and they can create customer and partner loyalty. But you have to get started.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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