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Focus on making business processes deliver more value to benefit from a service-oriented architecture, The Advisory Council says. Also, measure business risks against established metrics before deciding which IT services to outsource.
Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers two questions of core interest to you, ranging from career advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to [email protected]
Question A: How can we maximize the return on investment in a service-oriented architecture?
Our advice: Implementing a service-oriented architecture is hard, expensive, and requires new skills, but its benefits are available to everyone. The only near-term competitive advantage is tactical -- the early-mover advantage. Smart and lucky early movers may gain long-term market leadership, but you can't depend on it.
To maximize SOA-driven strategic advantage, you must use it as a catalyst to increase the value that you provide to your customers, partners, and stakeholders.
Like building the service-oriented architecture, this also is easier said than done. There are no blueprints. The path depends on your organization's value proposition, so plan to focus your efforts on empowering your business to conceive, create, and continually optimize business processes that deliver increased value. This requires exploiting the nebulous SOA benefits of agility and alignment.
Business processes are like a three-legged stool, with the legs being users, the applications they use, and the systems that automate logic execution and data management. If one of the legs is cut shorter than the others, the stool won't be very useful. To create sustainable competitive advantage, you need to build flexible and valuable business processes by deliberately, diligently, and perpetually executing on these imperatives:
Emphasize coarse-grained business services: Business services contain more logic than component services, so they encapsulate more business value, are more difficult to create, and are more costly to get wrong. Engage your customers, analysts, and other stakeholders to understand their current and future requirements. Design service interfaces that facilitate reuse and extensibility. Focus on quality over quantity.
Service-enable workflow applications: Most processes involve humans, who add value to processes in ways that computers will never accomplish. So the applications they use must communicate with the automated portions of the process through Web-service interfaces. The goal is to empower business-savvy users to easily and quickly configure, customize, and compose processes that deliver more value to your customers than your competitors. Nurture organizational awareness, understanding, and desire to use the newfound capabilities to both cut costs and increase revenue.
Automate as much as possible: Where possible, build services to automate manual steps to reduce costs and errors, both internally and in your interactions with customers, suppliers, and partners. Create process-driven composite applications by orchestrating services using the de-facto standard Business Process Execution Language for Web services.
Measure and optimize: Define process-specific metrics and key performance indicators. Measure actual data using business-activity monitoring systems. Analyze it to identify and understand issues, such as delays, and opportunities, such as customer behavior patterns. Replace service implementations as appropriate.
A service-oriented architecture enables agility and alignment of IT with the business. Business Process Execution Language, in particular, facilitates collaboration between business analysts and IT architects with a common language for both designing business protocols and building their executable implementations. It enables intuitive, visual tools for tech-savvy business analysts to define service-oriented process descriptions from a top-down perspective. Then, using the same language, business-savvy architects can build out the implementation from a bottom-up perspective, plugging in existing services and creating new services as required.
-- Steve Hoffman
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