BT plans to be 100 percent SOA by '09

UK Telco's plans prompt IT shakeup

While many enterprises are still trying to get their arms around just what SOAs (service-oriented architectures) really are, British Telecom is nearing the end of an eight-year effort to move to an entirely SOA-based IT environment, according to W. George Glass, BT's Chief Architect.

Glass, speaking to attendees at the InfoWorld SOA Executive Forum in New York City on Tuesday, said that the company is on target to have enterprisewide SOA by 2009, capping off a shift to a services-oriented architecture that began with provisioning of the company's mainframe systems in 2001.

Glass said that BT's effort is one of the largest SOA implementations in the world and is driven by a confluence of factors: a company decision to divide into separate lines of business to better serve customers, the construction of a $20 billion ubiquitous IP network across the EU, and an offer by U.K. telecom regulators to reduce oversight of the company in exchange for BT opening access to its network.

"All three of these required changes to our architecture to support them, and as we went down the road on each, we found the SOA approach satisfied each," Glass said.

BT had been experimenting with SOA since 2001, when the company first started using middleware to expose mainframe functionality as Web-based services, Glass said.

BT has since expanded that effort across its entire IT infrastructure, which encompasses more than 3,500 core systems, creating something called the Matrix Platform Architecture to support the shift. Matrix ties together 14 platforms with common capabilities that are reusable, and uses standards to streamline engineering and maintenance costs.

So far, BT has identified 160 "capabilities" it needs to expose, each with between five and 15 operations. For example, a "manage customer order" capability might collect information such as customer reference numbers, time and date of order, products purchased, and so on. Of those, BT has completed work and deployed 63 capabilities affecting 730 systems in the past two years.

When fully complete, the transition will make it much easier for BT to build and introduce new products and services for customers by reusing common components – say, customer identification and revenue collection – allowing BT to focus development resources just on new functionality, Glass said.

Developers who create new services rather than reuse existing ones may even risk losing up to a quarter of annual performance bonuses, Glass told InfoWorld.

Not that the transition to SOA has always been easy. BT engineers have sometimes failed to grasp the full complexity of different capabilities, requiring them to go back in to enhance capabilities they thought were well defined.

BT also encountered wide disparities between its documented business processes and the actual "facts on the ground" in its call centers and product groups.

Longtime BT IT employees also struggled with the demands to shift to SOA, fearing that it would make their jobs irrelevant.

"We had people who had been in the organization a long time and knew a particular system inside-out. They were valued for that knowledge and we were saying to them 'We don't value your knowledge of that system as much as I value your ability to express that.'"

Glass said that the shift to SOA has already made it possible to shift 20 percent of the IT staff - some 2,000 employees - from internal IT projects to customer-facing and revenue-generating roles.

By 2009, BT plans to have enough of its infrastructure shifted to an SOA model to support its core products for all its major customers.

In the end, the move to a 100 percent SOA environment will be hard-fought, but positive for the company: reducing the cost of IT, reducing support costs for legacy and redundant applications, and focusing BT on improving business processes rather than technology, Glass said.

"I think we're really pioneers in this," Glass said.

This article contains a clarification of the original.

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