Gaining Traction with SOA - What Every CIO Should Consider

By Ken Harris

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Service-oriented architecture (SOA) adoption is on the rise—promising businesses improved agility, closer alignment between system solution and business need and increased efficiency through reuse. To the CIO, an SOA approach expands options for cost reduction, speed-to-market and custom solution fit.


As businesses realize the early benefits of SOA deployment, adoption has increased significantly. In addition to enabling new functionality, SOA often extends the value of existing mainframe and other “legacy” environments. Gartner predicts that 80% of all new applications in the next two years will be SOA based, and Gartner’s Top 10 Technology list for 2008 includes several technologies considered to be SOA predecessors.


For this new architectural approach to deliver on its promise, SOA services must be continuously available and the underlying data must be accurate and up-to-date.


Best of Breed and the Promise of SOA


SOA significantly shifts the age old debate between best of breed and integrated software in favor of best of breed. SOA eliminates the need to rely on one or a small number of software providers in order to achieve ease-of-use and economies of scale. Integrated software is no longer the only way to decrease complexity and reduce cost.


With the mass consolidation in the software tools development market, as well among database and application vendors, SOA is quickly becoming the standard for many organizations. The promise of SOA for today’s CIO means liberation from the cost and capability restrictions that arise from single-sourced software solutions.


The intent of SOA is two-fold: to enable vendor interoperability and to support easy integration of data residing in multiple heterogeneous databases and applications. SOA gives CIOs greater flexibility when researching new technologies for adoption to meet their business needs. With SOA, CIOs can also quickly add needed services or capabilities to existing systems, without having to wait (and hope) for the next release of that system from their existing vendor. Along with the immediate functional benefits that SOA can bring, organizations are looking for ways to deliver results to the business faster, especially in the area of real-time data availability.


Maximizing SOA Effectiveness - Data Integration


Both service availability and data integrity are critical to a successful SOA implementation. A service built across multiple business applications must contain the most current, accurate and complete data from its sources. Successful SOA spotlights the requirement for effective data integration. Data integration is not a new challenge for CIOs. What is new is that current SOA offerings dramatically simplify this challenge.


When designing an SOA environment, IT architects frequently use a database or service specifically designed for an SOA environment. This helps to better manage underlying data coming from multiple heterogeneous systems on a single target database.

Many organizations still use custom-designed scripts to move data between their legacy environments and open systems platforms or databases. This adds a time, cost and flexibility burden on development resources that must then continuously modify, test and implement changes to these custom scripts. Without a different solution, organizations undergoing the shift to SOA heighten this burden as more users access more services and data. Similarly, the burden of data synchronization is heightened as well.

One significant benefit from SOA is that more users can and will quickly have increased access to more services and data. That’s good.


But if that benefit causes an increase from, for instance, 100 to 1000 users simultaneously accessing the same system, production can be severely impacted, even potentially causing system outages. That’s bad.


When adopting an SOA, CIOs must focus on the infrastructure’s capability to assure performance and data availability in real-time.


For example, during a credit service approval process, information may need to be pulled from a customer’s credit score, payment history and bank accounts. Applications that use this service know nothing of the details—they simply send a customer number and receive an approval or denial from the credit approval service. Making this composite service work often requires creation of a new data store that draws information from multiple source systems, and the data may need to be transformed into a new, consolidated format.


If the underlying data is not current, the overall result may be incorrect. If a customer’s payment history shows prompt payments but the current balance shows a large outstanding invoice, the service may reject this customer’s credit request, even though updated information would show a “paid” balance.

SOA runtime tools are typically able to manage service operations but they fall short of managing the data that drives those operations. Custom-designed data integration solutions while still a common practice are often insufficient for the new SOA world. For optimal results, CIOs should consider implementing a solution that provides both up to date information and continuous access to the data. Essentially, there is little value in implementing an SOA solution if the data is neither accurate nor continuously available.

Conclusion – SOA and the Data


SOA allows today’s CIO the opportunity to research the most effective tools and solutions on the market without falling victim to vendor lock-in. But a word of caution that without the freshest and most accurate information, the entire implementation can create more challenges than benefits.


As enterprise SOA adoption continues, services must remain continuously available and the underlying data should be both timely and complete. Any service that runs on poor or missing data is of little value to a business and in fact can often be detrimental. By increasing the availability, timeliness and accuracy of SOA data, the business can be assured a successful SOA implementation which in turn, increases business agility, suitability-of-solution-fit and economic efficiency.



Ken Harris is the CIO of Shaklee Corporation, the No.1 natural nutrition company in the U.S. As CIO of this privately-held, mid-market company Ken is responsible for providing cost-efficient, world class technology solutions. Prior to Shaklee, Ken has been CEO of Retail-in-Genius, SVP and CIO of Gap, Inc., Nike and Pepsi Cola. Ken serves on several technology Boards, including the Golden Gate Software advisory board.