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In many cases, the end of the year gives you time to step back and take stock of the last 12 months. This is when many of us take a hard look at what worked and what did not, complete performance reviews, and formulate plans for the coming year. For me, it is all of those things plus a time when I u...
A Bright SOA IDEA: The Road Map for Service-Oriented Success
Implementing SOA without a roadmap and a guide almost certainly means disaster

This desire for greater flexibility and effectiveness motivated one of the best companies in the United States to undertake a major SOA initiative. In many ways, the difficulties this defense and technology contractor giant faced with respect to the efficient integration of new acquisitions and their associated systems are typical of the issues that drive businesses to institute SOA initiatives on a broader level. Specifically, the rapidly growing contractor was challenged with human resource benefits document version control. The company wanted to construct a single document repository and a set of common services to synchronize documents.

The result of the SOA effort was a single reliable source for human resource benefits information. Having one standard data source made it possible for the organization to speed time-to-market for new HR offerings. This initiative also produced new standards across business units, which led to lower litigation costs.

Enablement - Driving Progress
Enablement is the next more ambitious phase. The organizations that have successfully reached this SOA stage can now blend services to ratchet up end-to-end business process improvements and create a far more streamlined and efficient organization. Companies that have achieved Enablement have a solid SOA infrastructure in place, and focus shifts from implementing technology to implementing business and organizational change. SOA provides the foundation for these initiatives, and the SOA development ethic serves as a standard best practice for any design work.

A major Japanese automobile manufacturer's story provides a good example. This company has successfully risen through the ranks to dominate sales worldwide; yet its expansion didn't come without some serious challenges. Like other businesses that have gone through major expansions, the company struggled with growing pains.

One challenge was understanding who its customers were and providing a consistent view of those customers throughout the organization. At a tactical level, this company had 30 different data stores of customer information. Audits found the data was less than 70% accurate. As a result, the company was pouring money into marketing and advertising initiatives based on data that was only 30% accurate.

An application was created that effectively provided a 360-degree view of customer information. The application provided accurate data that helped the company speed time-to-market and create more effective marketing initiatives. As a result, it lowered the costs associated with customer data services. After implementing the project, the company stopped buying customer data from external sources because the quality of its internal data was now better than what they could buy, saving the company millions of dollars. These solutions were delivered by creating an SOA that maintained one view of the customer.

Agility - A Force in Motion
Companies successfully progressing to this point can aim to reach a sort of SOA nirvana - Agility, the highest level in the Service Oriented Architecture maturity model. To reach this phase means an organization has adopted an enterprise-wide service orientation and is likely extending this philosophy beyond its company boundaries. This translates into having services and processes that enable all internal collaboration and work with both their partners and customers' processes.

As appealing as this sounds, most SOA initiatives are still relatively immature, so no company can really claim to have reached this implementation level. However, having these phases as reference points helps businesses gauge where they are to determine if they're on track or simply spinning their wheels by remaining too tactically focused.

So what would a business that reaches the Agility phase look like? For starters, it would rely on reusable services and composite applications. It would also have SOA throughout the enterprise to provide real-time business services, runtime governance, and process coordination. A company that reached the Agility phase would also have virtualized and federated resource management.

But to reach the Agility SOA maturity phase, an organization has to transform itself into a truly flexible business, rapidly responding and reacting to changes in demand and market conditions through technology. And the company would have to be able to extend the developed solutions beyond its four walls. With respect to technology, an organization would have to create effective real-time processing loops.

While no business has yet to progress through all the phases of SOA adoption to reach this level of maturity, once a business does, it will be in a position to compete more effectively against market rivals. At this point, a company might need a consulting partner to provide cross-enterprise SOA solutions to help it create a truly expansive enterprise.

Components of Change
While the Hitachi Consulting SOA maturity model gives business and IT executives a glimpse of the road before them, the view is high level. To begin the practical steps a business and IT organization need to reach a successful end point, both need more detail to guide their efforts. Stakeholders have to understand the roles particular components play at each stage. In effect, companies need to look at SOA adoption as a multi-dimensional exercise. There are seven components common to every phase of the maturity model. These components, which include strategy, process, governance, data, services, architecture, and people, span the technical, business, and human aspects of SOA adoption. What varies from stage to stage is each component's role and relative importance to the project's outcome based on SOA implementation maturity.

Because SOA adoption impacts so many different aspects of a company, timing is crucial when it comes to focusing on the right issues at the right times to create smooth transitions and guarantee the organization progresses through all phases of the maturity model. Naturally, some components take on more importance in certain phases than in others. For example, during the SOA initiation phase, an organization is probably not going to focus much on governance, but concentrate instead more on data or applications. However, organizations won't be successful with SOA initiatives unless key aspects of each component are addressed at every level of the maturity model.

It's worth noting that as complex as each component can be, perhaps the most volatile - and certainly the most vital - is the human element.

A Map of the New World
Like any architecture promising rich rewards, there's considerable hype around SOA. However, recent research by Aberdeen demonstrates that those willing to undertake the journey and progress through the different stages will realize significant benefits. Aberdeen surveyed more than 400 companies and categorized their SOA efforts into two groups - companies with "SOA Lite" (deploying Web Services based applications) and companies building full SOA middleware infrastructures. Aberdeen concluded: "Organizations that are focusing on SOA infrastructure are outperforming those that are deploying only Web Services. They are realizing lower application lifecycle costs, better throughput for projects, and higher levels of user satisfaction."

SOA adoption is a complex multi-stage process requiring a good deal of thought and preparation at each phase. No organization should enter on the path without having a clear roadmap that provides critical markers that business and IT executives can use to chart the progress of their SOA implementation. This roadmap will give companies guidance on the best routes they need to take to reach their destination and help avoid the pitfalls and traps that lay ahead.

But before launching a new journey, businesses first need to understand where they are and where they want to go. Only then can they map a clear path that will take them through the process of creating a sturdy foundation for progress and ultimately corporate excellence that will help them stand out in an increasingly competitive world market.

About Hitachi Consulting
As Hitachi, Ltd.'s global consulting company with operations in the United States, Europe, and Asia, Hitachi Consulting is a recognized leader in delivering business and IT strategies and solutions to Global 2000 companies across many industries. With a balanced view of strategy, people, process, and technology, we work with companies to understand their unique business needs, and to develop and implement practical business strategies and technology solutions. From business strategy development through application deployment, our consultants are committed to helping clients quickly realize measurable business value and achieve sustainable ROI.

About Brian Erickson
Brian Erickson is the managing vice president for Hitachi Consulting's Strategic Technology Solutions practice. With more than 22 years of management and technology consulting experience in a variety of industries, he has worked with some of the largest and most influential corporations on business strategy, business transformation and strategic technology planning. Brian earned a bachelor's degree in information systems an MBA from Baylor University.

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