DoD puts SOA into action

A long history of process modeling helps the U.S. Transportation Command launch a promising SOA initiative

When it comes to modeling complex business processes, the folks at the U.S. Transportation Command (U.S. Transcom) have a lot of experience. As the central defense agency responsible for worldwide air, land, and sea transportation for the U.S. armed services, U.S. Transcom has been developing internal process architectures for more than a decade.

That experience came in handy recently when, as part of a government-wide push toward SOA, it stepped up its efforts to develop services that can be leveraged across multiple processes, both internally and by its many military partners and commercial vendors.

“We had a jumpstart on understanding the value of doing architecture work,” says a U.S. Transcom representative who asked not to be identified. “We have a full blown architecture here -- all the processes, including information exchange requirements between systems. We looked at what was being driven down from the highest levels on SOA by the DISA [Defense Information Systems Agency] and NII [Networks and Information Integration] guys -- and asked how can we start to instantiate those kinds of services against our operational processes to make them more effective.”

Having spent a year evaluating actual processes, such as manifesting (for thousands of ships, aircraft, and railcars) or distributing ammunition, the command has now started building standardized services and transaction sets that will enable a more efficient flow of information and matériel throughout its far-flung network, according to the representative.

“We worked the business issues with the functional guys as we built the architecture,” the representative says. “We … essentially said to the community, We really need to understand these business processes better.” Some of the key issues involved the many relationships the command has with external agencies, such as how to manage handoffs of both information and cargo, explains Dennis Nadler, CTO of Merlin Technical Solutions, a consulting firm that supported the project.

“One of the main thrusts is around sharing of information,” Nadler says. “In the past, when people wanted to interface with US Transcom’s GTN [Global Transportation Network], they had to go through a giant development effort. Whereas now they can go to a registry and discover the Web service, for example, that provides passenger manifests for an airplane.”

Key insights from the work done so far, according to the US Transcom representative, include the importance of doing up-front business process mapping down to a detailed level, via the architectural workshops with subject matter experts.

“We’re one of the few government agencies that is using this type of architecture to drive the SOA environment,” the representative adds. And as with many SOA initiatives, the ultimate payoff will be a whole new level of agility. “We need to be able to say, ‘I need to be able to readjust the planning of a shipment; I need it to go here and not there.’”