Steps to SOA No. 1: Think Big, Start Small

High-maintenance trouble spots in your organization can provide a great opportunity to demonstrate the value of an SOA approach.

SOA starts with a business promise: to enable enterprises to re-engineer themselves on the fly. From the outset, look for opportunities for agility. The more dynamic the business, the more it will benefit from a well-implemented SOA. And the more allies you have who share the SOA vision, the better. In particular, it helps to have powerful partners in your company’s business management who understand the ultimate payoffs of cost reduction and accelerated response to change across the organization.

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The Starting Point for SOA

“We’re actually kind of fortunate in that we don’t have to sell SOA,” says Ben Moreland, assistant director of foundation services at The Hartford, which got its SOA initiative rolling a few years ago. “Our senior vice president, John Chu, recognized the benefits and the value of SOA.”

This shared vision may be vast, but it pays to start small. “Don’t try to do ‘boil-the-ocean’-type projects,” advises Ed Horst, vice president of marketing at AmberPoint, who has watched overly ambitious initiatives falter. “I think the most successful initial projects we’ve seen are those that are small in size—about six to 10 services that integrate two or three things and take around six months to complete.”

Many organizations start by provisioning a few mission-critical legacy applications as services, providing access to important data and functionality to other applications for the first time. Or they use shared services to eliminate redundancy among several difficult-to-maintain stovepipe applications that overlap in functionality.

Such projects may yield significant benefits, but SOA delivers the most value—and will scale far better in the future— when you begin by drawing a box around a set of related business processes that need streamlining, rather than attacking technology problems first. Scott Thompson, senior architect at H&R Block, puts it this way: “We had to switch our mentality from just rendering data and just making a service out of it because we could, to asking: What’s the business problem that we’re trying to solve, and what applicability does that business problem have to other areas of the organization?”

Jean-Michel Van Lippevelde, business architect at Accelior Consulting, has reached the same conclusion. “Take a top-down approach from a business-process perspective,” he advises. The results can be highly visible, as they were in Accelior’s engagement with ING Lease Belgium, which targeted a request-for-quote process that included automatically generating contracts. Before, the process typically took days. But after streamlining the process, provisioning services, and automating formerly manual steps, the wait time was reduced to minutes.

Eric Knorr is executive editor at large at InfoWorld. Oliver Rist is senior contributing editor of the InfoWorld

This story, "Steps to SOA No. 1: Think Big, Start Small " was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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