SOA and enterprise apps

To listen to certain vendors, it may be tempting to believe that through implementing a service-oriented architecture (SOA) platform, business leaders can finally establish a flexible and responsive IT system that delivers what the business needs. Unfortunately, the reality is not so simple.

Certainly, the concept of service orientation is one that will resonate within many businesses, as executives look for a way to increase the alignment of IT with business operations – and for those systems to respond rapidly to market changes.

The problem, says Roman Stanek, former CEO of SOA governance vendor, Systinet, is that there are so many components to building a SOA platform – such as hosting technology, management technology, orchestration technology, business process management technology – that the idea of purchasing it all from one vendor is, in all likelihood, a bad one. “Given the open standards approach, the distributed approach [that underpins SOA], I don’t really see the need for a platform,” he says.

And yet many of today’s enterprise application vendors are pushing themselves as the choice provider of those very same SOA platforms. The idea that an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system should be the foundation of service orientation is back-to-front thinking, says David Linthicum, of The Linthicum Group, a SOA consultancy.

The idea that an ERP system should be the foundation of service orientation is back-to-front thinking. 

“If the ERP guys understood anything about SOA they would know that there is no way they can lead that market because it’s all about systemic change to the enterprise, not layering in more processes, services-enabled ERP systems, or middleware,” he says.

However, that is not to say that the approach being taken by the ERP vendors is without merit. At drinks giant Diageo, the move towards SOA has been heavily influenced by its enterprise applications. The company has grown rapidly through a series of acquisitions; each new acquisition has brought a new instance of ERP. With this complexity stifling the company it has embarked on a five-year ERP consolidation plan using an SOA approach – developed with its ERP supplier SAP – to provide the necessary integration as the migration to a single instance rolls out.

However, as Bruce Richardson, of AMR Research reports, there is currently “lack of SOA enthusiasm” at many large SAP customers. He describes the use of web services as the new integration tools, as “Little SOA”.

The real deal is “Big SOA” – web-based, supporting a component architecture with native web services, “and more easily extended than the apps we have been using since the early 1990s,” he says. The pacesetters here are not the established heavyweights of the ERP world, but young pretenders such as NetSuite, RightNow, and Workday.

Whether these new companies will bring down their longer-established rivals remains to be seen. Regardless, “the rapid adoption of SAP will lead to the end of the ERP market as we know it,” says Richardson.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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