Moving towards Service Oriented Architecture
From 2006 to 2007 the major trend in information technology (IT) has been the shift from building infrastructure to service-based or Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA). These trends emerge from a growing dissatisfaction with dated systems such as CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software.
This article will discuss the current trends that see ERPs giving way to SOAs.
Until recently, IT systems were dominated by a focus on infrastructure. IT infrastructure refers to the hardware and software that maintains and organizes information within an organization. These include an organization’s hardware, software, computerized networks and any services or products an organization uses to create, access, and process, information. However, recently there has been a shift toward service-based architecture within IT systems.
Service-based architecture is also referred to as service-oriented architecture (SOA). Either one of these terms describes the design through which communication between IT entities help each other perform specific services or functions. The structure can be applied to a variety of IT areas from web services to network management. These services are defined in a description language and are presented through interfaces.
In the case of a business environment these services might include managing orders or getting a credit rating, for example. This function is further broken down into more specific services such as, in the case of retail services, “creating an order”, “invoicing an order”, and “shipping an order”. These services can be run simultaneously for various data centers.
The strength of SOAs lies in their independence and flexibility. The performance of the service relies only on the communication between specific programs or applications in the service of performing a specific service, independent from any other interactions. This independence contributes to the flexibility of SOAs.
Customers, for example, can request specific services and interact with those services according to their needs. Because it is a design or structural term, SOAs also run independently from specific technologies. The same service can be applied to a multitude of applications.
The trend toward SOAs emerges from a growing dissatisfaction with different systems that were previously arranged an organization’s data and processes. For example, customer relations management (CRM) software connects the marketing departments with sales and distribution departments and customer service. This software automates and standardizes the processes between these departments to facilitate the management of data and the improvement of customer relations. However, CRM software only connects a specific area of the organization.
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software integrates an organization’s data and processes so that different systems can share information and perform functions across applications without the need of human intervention. Within these systems, data from various modules is integrated and unified into one database.
Integration makes it possible for ERPs to manage all of an organization’s business functions ranging from manufacturing and logistics to shipping and invoicing, from inventory management to human resources management.
The main benefit of ERPs is their ability to integrate data from previously disconnected applications. However, this complete integration diminishes the flexibility and independence SOAs provide.
Recently, SOAs have been replacing ERPs as the preferred method of application integration.
- What are the limitations of ERPs?
- Why are SOAs so much more attractive?
ERPs require extensive workforce training and can be expensive to install and support. Customizing ERPs is limited because changing the software is not allowed and, since it is a totalizing system, it may be over-engineered in relation to the organization’s needs.
Business processes might require re-engineering to fit ERP-prescribed industry standards. This, in turn, might affect an organization’s competitiveness. The most cited limitation of ERPs is their rigidity in adapting to an organization’s specific business process.
SOAs, on the other hand, offer integration and flexibility. If an organization suffers from poorly integrated applications that produce redundancy and unnecessary work an SOA can help consolidate or eliminate some of that. For example, if a company requires the same service for different divisions, an SOA can automatically perform that function for the different divisions without having to link to individual systems. All that is required is a connection to the link that defines the service. Software is reused, making integration cheaper and faster.
SOAs also make IT systems easier to modify. Each service can be isolated and modified according to the specific needs of business processes, rather than having to rebuild the entire system because of a change or increase in a specific process. This increased agility and flexibility allows business people to visualize the grand scheme of their business processes.
Ultimately, SOA allows them to modify, mix and match services into new combinations that will make their systems work for each other’s benefit and the benefit of the entire organization.
Points of Interest
The trend from ERPs toward SOAs continues in 2007 because of the limitations and gaps in ERPs. However, the trends are defined differently according to vendors and their products.
For example, vendors such as SAP will argue that the “best of breed” model of buying software from different vendors to get the best of each application will be replaced by more standardized software like SAP’s Enterprise Service Architecture and it’s Netweaver middleware.
However, other vendors, such as Oracle argue against such a standardized architecture and offer less customized middleware like its Fusion middleware.
Also, a company might be able to skip a huge, expensive ERP upgrade by adding service-enabled features to a middleware platform.
Most vendors, however, suggest a trend toward the creative combining of purchased applications in SOAs.