Not too long ago, IT organizations turned to service-oriented architecture (SOA) primarily as a way to integrate enterprise applications. But now large companies are using SOA to create components that can be combined and reused as services across multiple applications.
This makes application updates easier and faster, reduces development time, improves service to customers and partners, and saves money.
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While this broader use of SOA does lead to management challenges, including the need for "building in governance so you have a way to register and share services," he says, "the end result is a reduction of complexity" by making things more interoperable.
At Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., in Springfield, Mass., the SOA project now incorporates around 40 services, including distribution management, premium collections, customer information management, new business and underwriting.
These services integrate applications across business units, each of which markets different products. Instead of replacing an existing application wholesale, business units select an appropriate combination from the company's array of shared services," says Kinam-Peter Kim, manager of enterprise SOA at MassMutual.
"To us, SOA is not a technology. It is an approach to modernize our business -- an approach to create an adaptable enterprise," Kim explains.
Well-designed SOA services are reusable for both business process automation and systems integration. For example, MassMutual's shared business functions, such as security, are placed into repositories. These shared functions conform to the IT department's governing policies, which in turn determine which applications use the shared services.
When the company was considering revamping its SOA approach in 2007, the IT team realized that instead of changing the architecture model, they could instead use one model across all business units.
"We asked questions like, what does SOA mean for our business?" says Don Carten, assistant vice president of enterprise technology at MassMutual. "We thought about the approach, what funds to lay out, practices, what services do we use. Then we built a team that was core to the program... and built out the services using well-known standards."
SOA: Broadening and deepening
"SOA is moving into the mainstream, where it becomes a component of other things," says Mike Gilpin, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. "Companies define Web services, write the code and then deliver the [application] service," he says.
He uses the telecommunications industry to illustrate the concept. SOA is the lingua franca that bridges all of a telco's services -- landline, Internet, mobile, television and more -- so they can be delivered in a unified manner on a carrier's Web site. This setup could even be extended to retail outlets, where it would enable salespeople to see details of various packages on a monitor.
With SOA, all of that could be more tightly integrated, allowing a company to market, provision and create bills for combined and bundled services from all sources.
Each of those systems could run on different underlying technologies, Gilpin explains. "Landlines might live on a mainframe, while mobile services are running on a Java platform. SOA is the enabler, and this lowers cost."
Similarly, in the financial services industry, SOA could enable banks to process loans faster or offer speedier service with fewer hassles, he adds.