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Architecting Services

Architecting Services

The idea is to optimize technology investments and achieve tighter alignment by integrating existing systems, applications and users into a flexible architecture that can easily accommodate changing needs.

Pathways to SOA

According to Glass, one of the nice things about SOA is that it is relatively straightforward to put adaptors in place that can make virtually all your existing infrastructure appear as a collection of services. Indeed from an architectural perspective that is the way WebMethods recommends people go about adopting a SOA.

But how useful that approach is appears to directly relate to the complexity of the existing environment. For instance, the Australian Taxation Office has a long-term goal of moving to a SOA and is experimenting with Web services, but CTO Todd Heather says it would be wrong to say it was formally embarked on an implementation of a SOA.

Heather says the ATO has successfully exposed a Web service standard for interaction with taxpayers and tax agents through its e-activity statement application, has written a position paper for the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) on the definition of Tax XML, and is quite active in the evolution of that framework within the standards. However, Heather says the ATO has no plans to change its systems just to move to a service-oriented architecture. Rather, the delivery of any new architecture would occur through work done on systems for business purposes.

"The main changes we're introducing to the systems for business purposes are in the Change program because that's an assembly of packaged software - we're adopting the architecture that is inherent in those packages. We're not imposing a service-oriented architecture on those packages," he says. "We just keep looking for opportunities to drive value out of this. If we've got some basic agreements about how we're going to interoperate, then we can start looking for business value to build on top of those standards."

Heather says the ATO has done some simple object access protocol (SOAP) work in its interactions with other agencies, putting it "at the bottom end of the SOA stack".

"As we begin developing more applications during the Change Program or after the Change Program, say enhancements to our portals, we'd be trying to move up that stack towards a service-oriented architecture. But it will be in the two- to three-year time frame," he says.

Still, the route to SOA is much easier for some organizations than for others. Solutions consultant Mincom is looking to Web services to impact the way it assembles software-based solutions for customers: it plans to move from a more traditional development cycle to a dynamic service-oriented, process-focused and flow-based development style. It sees Web services as mitigating the challenges of process description and modelling.

Mincom director infrastructure solutions John Benders says because it already has a fairly modular architecture, Mincom has found it fairly easy to start on the path to a SOA by encapsulating much of its existing functionality into base services. "We're not fully at a SOA yet, but we've certainly got a migration plan that seems to be falling into place quite neatly," Benders says. "In fact this is the first time I've ever done anything like this where it's falling in so neatly as this."

Next, Mincom plans to identify the business services it wants to "expose" as true services and plug those together from those base services. Benders says while he can see Mincom will need much more in time, the first-generation tools available now are making the work run fairly smoothly to date.

"We can see that we're going to need a lot more in the future, but at the moment the timing's fairly right for us - I think we're on the right side of the curve," Benders says. "We see workflow as being the big thing. A lot of our customers want to be able to see those rules and they want to be able to - and this is I think going to be a challenge - take our services, or take what we provide, and they're going to want to change those. They're going to want to be able to say: 'That's not actually how we want that service to work; we want our service to do this, this and this.' And at the moment they're probably going to have to build their own to do that."

He says the industry is not there yet, but that is where Mincom's research effort will be concentrated in the near term.

Wiggins says the average enterprise will take three to five years to gain the level of process maturity that it needs to take advantage of SOA. In the meantime, the nay-sayers abound. As businesses become more process-oriented, that picture will change dramatically, he says.

"If they haven't started already on Web services we consider them laggards today. If any enterprise today, especially mid-size and above, hasn't already embarked on at least experimentation of Web services as a minimum, they are already in the laggard space," Wiggins says.

"The reality behind this is today if you're doing concepts and you're able to adapt and respond to market needs rapidly, then you have a distinct competitive advantage."

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