Service-oriented architecture (SOA) has a little secret that few of its advocates care to mention, as they make promises of business-driven, flexible software, says Michael Morris, chief technology officer of MW2 Consulting, an IT services company: The ever-increasing complexity of legacy systems will stymie all progress if left unchecked.
The problem can best be appreciated through considering the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which is likely to account for the bulk of legacy applications. Research suggests that up to 40% of the total system implementation costs go on supporting ERP systems.
That leaves IT decision makers with a dilemma: these systems represent a massive outlay, upgrades can be tortuous and even more costly; and yet, the business needs to cut those support costs, while fuelling innovation.
Typically, IT departments have these problems, Morris argues, because they are continually operating in ‘firefighting’ mode, addressing various crises as and when they arise. In order to start delivering a better service to the business, IT must move to a predictive mode in which it can “monitor customers, identify a problem and fix it before it occurs, to deliver benefits, and show value back to the business.”
This means moving from an “application-centric view”, to one focused on the delivery of services, says Morris. “Ultimately you then get to the business service management view, which is true process visibility and automation. That’s where everyone wants to get to and my argument is that SOA will become an enabler for us to get there.”
Currently however, such visions are far removed from today’s realities, where application silos force employees to alter their way of working to accommodate the software. Instead of a sales rep, for instance, being able to simply deal with a customer, they end up shifting between various applications, as each component of a process requires a different piece of software. This is a madness that SOA can help resolve, says Morris.
Michael Morris is founder and CTO of MW2 Consulting where he has led the development of the company's service-oriented-architecture (SOA) based business solutions, and has helped set the standards around SOA delivery and enterprise SOA implementations.
Prior to founding MW2 Consulting in 1999, Michael worked as an IT Architect for KPMG Consulting delivering enterprise solutions for companies including Hewlett-Packard, Warner Bros., Motorola, and AOL. Michael holds a dual degree from Stanford University.
“I want to be able to say ‘I’ve got a service I’m delivering’. I want to start measuring those services with KPIs and service level agreements, and SOA will come in to allow us to actually leverage those services to deliver new applications for those lines of business. It’s a pretty simple view but that’s how SOA becomes important.”
However, the ERP vendors have, to date, been rather keen on users upgrading to their latest versions if they want to be able to access SOA-enabled functionality. This approach ignores how legacy applications can be exposed through the use of web services.
MW2 Consulting is working with clients to provide an SOA blueprint for businesses using SAP. For instance, MW2 Consulting has enabled customers to leverage their SAP R3 systems for order management, and their CRM software, such as Seibel or Salesforce.com, in order to deliver an integrated set of business processes.
That helps customers gain the benefit of an SOA platform, without necessarily having to go to the trouble of updating its ERP suite. “SOA will allow us to keep the data where it is,” explains Morris, “and to deliver a new composite application to streamline that business process.” This is done relatively cheaply because the process does not require integration via middleware, he adds.
The end result is an application that provides the end user with real-time visibility around their transactions, allowing them to monitor service-level objectives from a business service standpoint. This allows the business
to fully map its processes to theinfrastructure, says Morris, in order to understand “the link between the business, and the IT”.