Every decade or so, the Information Technology industry delivers a new revolutionary paradigm that challenges existing notions of computer applications, development and deployment.
The move from mainframes to departmental minicomputers to desktop personal computers, the emergence of networking as a solution for distributed computing, the advent of databases and client server architectures — all these and more have threatened to change the way CEOs think and act with respect to information technology.
None more so than today’s great white hope — Service Oriented Architecture or SOA.
An interesting point of departure from the earlier paradigm shifts is that while most of the earlier developments happened because of the availability of the right technology at that point in time. SOA in some ways contradicts this paradigm because it is more of a business driven architectural concept rather than IT driven technical fad or a shrink wrapped product.
It is a new way of thinking on how you look at your business in the short term/long term, what are the key business functionalities, how you see them growing and evolving in the coming years and how can you leverage them across the organisation in a technology neutral way.
IBM Corporation says "A service-oriented architecture (SOA) is an application framework that takes everyday business applications and breaks them down into individual business functions and processes, called services. An SOA lets you build, deploy and integrate these services independent of applications and the computing platforms on which they run."
By decomposing an application implementation into discrete business services, and allowing these services to be recomposed readily, systems can be built that reuse existing business components blocks and reduce new development work solely to new areas of functionality. Consider a company offering home insurance over the Internet. The company now decides to start offering car insurance too.
This needs a new IT-based service. But can we reuse existing business process for home insurance to support car insurance also? If the existing business process is divided discrete units through the use of an SOA, then the primary changes will be around the insurance details and validation; other aspects of the solution can simply be reused.
Interestingly, the SOA approach can be most useful when an organisation wants to leverage its existing portfolio of applications without reinventing the wheel from scratch. This is becoming easier day-by-day because industry momentum has shifted away from proprietary protocols to more standard oriented products and protocols, some of them providing out-of-the-box support for these standards.
SOA enables corporate chieftains to build technology agnostic solutions quickly and reduce their dependence on fast changing technology and capricious people! How does this tempting prospect see implementation in an organisation? Watch this space next Tuesday!
The writer is deputy chairman and MD of Zensar Technologies.