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Service-oriented architecture

Part of the reason for that shift in focus from the technicians and developers to the users is that the users themselves have a better idea of what they want, according to Keith Swenson, VP of research and development for Fujitsu Computer Systems (computers.us.fujitsu.com). "A year ago, a lot of people inside organizations still didn't know what [SOA] was. There was a lot of confusion," he says.

Other SOA experts say that adoption of SOA has gotten another boost in the last year because knowledge of the technology, its capabilities and potential benefits for organizations has extended beyond IT professionals to those in the corporate suite.

"Now people are looking around for what they can do with [SOA]," Swenson says.

SOA in action

The answer is plenty, with the organizations with the highest knowledge usage achieving the greatest benefits. For example, a multinational oil company is using SOA technology to collect emission information for its various sites throughout the world, according to Larry Goldenhersh, president and CEO of Enviance. The company previously recorded the information from each site, recorded the data on a spreadsheet, and then compared it against allowable emissions. With some 2,000 different permits requiring about 25,000 reports on a monthly basis, that was a cumbersome, labor-intensive and slow process.

"Companies know that it is easier and less expensive for knowledge workers to use Web-based services to gather this information," Goldenhersh says.

Now that the company has added SOA-based technology to monitor systems—specifically, Web-based services—manual recording and reporting are no longer necessary. The company now uses an Internet-based system to collect all of the information and input it into environmental reports and active dashboards. The dashboards allow the company to quickly see when emissions are too high and to take corrective action, Goldenhersh says. The company can recognize and correct problems more quickly, enabling it to minimize fines and penalties.

"Using SOA is the best way for companies to install best-of-breed point solutions," says Morris Panner, CEO of OpenAir. "It's a way of bridging data silos and a cost-effective way of automating processes."

Though some businesses, such as financial services organizations, have discussed breaking down information silos for several years, the actual implementation and use of enterprisewide search/SOA-based applications is still relatively new, according to BearingPoint's Ramachandra.

Challenges exist

Part of the challenge with the adoption of SOA is that some systems and some organizations aren't ready for it. Some older systems and applications aren't capable of working in an SOA environment without some type of middleware, says Charles Isaacs, CTO for KANA (kana.com).

"SOA can't be a point solution," Keene adds. "It can't just be a technical implementation."

The need for SOA, which is more encompassing than enterprise resource or customer relationship management systems, has led to acquisitions or partnerships among technology providers in the last year. BearingPoint has partnered with Oracle on Project Fusion to provide SOA-related technologies that work with legacy Oracle systems.

BEA acquired Flashline, known for its enterprise metadata repository. The Flashline repository will be a key component of the company's AquaLogic product family, BEA reports. It will enable tracking, governing and managing liquid assets in a common repository for sharing across multiple projects and measuring the resulting business value.

Similarly IBM acquired FileNet to expand on the company's enterprise resource planning (ERP) offerings.

"One of the goals of an SOA infrastructure is to implement automation as thoroughly as possible throughout the organization to reduce repetitive types of tasks," says Dave Caldiera, VP of platform product marketing for FileNet.

So, these systems enhance workflow not only by sharing information between systems, but also by automatically triggering workflow from one application to another in sequential processes like a loan application. The customer applies online, the application takes the personal information to run a credit check. If the applicant meets the credit requirements, the necessary information flows through to the next process, which continues the loan process.

In the next year, experts expect SOA to become more ingrained in organizations and adapted by ever-smaller enterprises as they seek to gain some efficiency and other benefits that the technology offers. As that happens, more organizations will look for an increasing number of SOA initiatives, says Caldiera, who, like many others, expects further maturation of the technology in the next several months.

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