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How Can Small to Medium Sized Enterprises Benefit from SOA?

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Big companies with big IT staffs are often the first to realize the benefits of IT projects like SOA. But what about small to medium-sized companies with a much smaller and often overworked IT staff?  How do they stand to benefit from SOA in these tough times?

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  • In general, a SOA improves the return on investment of IT assets. It extends the life of legacy applications, facilitates the reuse of software, and serves as a backbone for extended business processes and composite applications. It also improves data consistency and quality by eliminating redundant processes and data stores.
    A SOA attempts to normalize business services, and this is not always present in SMB objectives. Then there’s the question of the SOA Competency Center. Recent years' experience from SOA projects suggests that driving the whole approach with an SCC is a key success factor. I do not think that SMB’s can shortcut this, but they could implement an SCC function also via external consultancy rather than as a full time position.

    Also, as in many projects, a small step approach is best – once the big picture is drawn and clear. And obviously, start where the expected benefit is highest and the risk lowest.

    This being said, many SMB’s are not at all in a position to implement a SOA. For those who are, that would be evolutionary step towards a Web-oriented architecture and cloud-based applications. Also, most packaged application vendors are redesigning and integrating SOA principles in order to improve the flexibility and extensibility of the offerings.

    So in short, SOA is here to stay and carry us to the next level, either as an internal approach or an external one.

  • I had the pleasure of working with a $200m/yr business and bringing SOA into their IT environment. We applied the concepts of service orientation to re-design of some key systems and enabled them to re-engineer some critical business processes very quickly and easily driving significant cost reductions and growth of some product lines.

    The virtues of SOA are about aligning the business with information technology direction. This alignment alone can bring about cost savings and efficiencies.

  • SOA can be short and sweet for the smaller company as well... most of the same value applies. Sure, there may not be a major integration solution in place, or a top-tier consultancy working on the project, but that doesn't diminish the potential.

    These firms still have distributed business partners and teams to bring into the fold, heterogeneous technology assets to rationalize and reuse, and business processes to flexibly align their applications around. For a smaller company, value is not just about cost savings; agility is essential to survival and growth in a competitive environment.

    What is critical in these environments is that sound architecture and risk mitigation practices are put in place rather than technology-first approaches, as there may not be budget or time for a do-over on a poor SOA strategy.

  • The primary benefit of an SOA to small and medium sized businesses (SMB) is exactly the same as it is for a large sized company - business and IT alignment. In other words, the value potential of an SOA, as an architectural style, is not tied to the size of a company. Having said that, the next question that might come to mind is "Are SMBs ready for an SOA?" They absolutely should be ready and my guess is that if they think they are not then it's probably because they have been misguided as to what SOA really is. SOA is not about Web Services and the hundreds of associated WS-* standards; nor is it about deploying a mandatory Enterprise Service Bus and encapsulating every single business interaction as a BPEL workflow. SOA is not about technology; it's about optimizing your business by aligning your IT capabilities with your current and anticipated business needs. Once you abstract all that technology out and think about SOA with your business hat on, you'll quickly see that SMBs have as much to gain with SOA as any other sized company.

  • I think the problem with asking any question about SOA these days is what people understand by SOA. I would agree with the various points made already here that any business, small, medium or large can benefit from implementing an SOA in their organizations.

    However, from my perspective the real benefit to SMBs is the possibilities it offers them to integrate their systems with large customers or suppliers. While we have been inundated with standards in the SOA space that has lead a little to 'standards fatigue', if we talk about a standards based SOA environment using the base standards like WSDL, SOAP, HTTP and TCP/IP, there are enormous benefits to SMBs in my opinion.

    Using these standards enables levels of connectivity and integration never before possible due to the huge costs required to have any form of EDI between companies. When you consider that many small and even medium sized companies don't have the benefit of a fully skilled IT department, integrating with larger companies was simply not a financially viable option. Consider that most small companies are likely to have products like Excel, Word etc. for their day to day work. Using the above standards, even with these basic tools, it's possible for these companies to integrate their systems with much larger companies.

    We were involved in a project last year where a very large corporation managed to significantly reduce their transport costs by farming out their transport to smaller companies rather than the very large one they used to deal with. This was only possible because using a REST based approach, they were in a position to provide delivery lists to the smaller companies using Excel. As the deliveries were made, the excel sheet was updated to be resubmitted back to the larger coorporation at the end of the day to confirm deliveries.

    This is something that would have been unheard of using older EDI techniques and illustrates that SMBs can benefit greatly from standards based SOA,

  • I find myself compelled to join the group here. The benefits of SOA don't necessarily relate to the size of the organization. Business and IT alignment is crucial no matter what size the company is. SMBs can benefit just as readily as a large enterprise. The key obviously is refusing to accept a status quo where IT and the business continue to exist as stand alone silos that rarely speak to each other.

  • Excellent points across the board. Two things I want to add to the SMB discussion with respect to SOA:

    First, SMB’s are likely to be early adopters of cloud-based services and Software-as-a Service (we saw this with the first wave of ASPs and now with the second-generation of SaaS and Cloud services) and there are some basic methodologies that come with SOA that are very useful when considering sourcing applications and IT capabilities via service providers. The concept of the provider-consumer relationship is fundamental to SOA and is also a critical success factor for effectively utilizing a cloud or SaaS solution. SMB IT organization should be thinking about what they need to be successful in their role both as a consumer of services and potentially a provider including how they want to manage these relationships, what type of information do they need from their service provider to effectively integrate the service into their business and IT domains, understanding the expected level of service the provider will deliver and what the processes are, should there be issues with service delivery, what protections does the SMB have regarding any data they share with the service provider and so forth. SOA fundamentally includes this concept of provider-consumer and has been a catalyst for best practices relevant to the consumer-provider relationship.

    Secondly, SMBs will find themselves brought into the SOA world whether they explicitly plan for it or not. Packaged apps and SaaS solutions are rapidly evolving to be architected based on the concept of loosely-coupled shared services to provide the application providers more flexibility and agility in how they evolve their applications, package and componentized functionality to better fit market segments and how they deploy on or off-customer premises. If the SMB takes the time to develop skills and knowledge around SOA, they will be in a better position to take advantage of these modern application architectures both from a use/re-use and management cost/efficiency perspective.

    So, it may not be that an SMB has to have a vast amount of developer skills around developing SOA apps but their IT teams should develop a level of subject matter expertise to optimize their understanding and use of modern application architectures coming in packaged, software as a service and cloud-based apps.

  • SOA can be implemented in any business process entity in flexible way, as long as an enterprise has business design. Small Business can use ERP software like SAP Business One and SAP Business One HANA which help to save their all Transaction in one place and an effective way.
    SOA gives a better alignment between IT and Business process, reduce IT burden, increase vendor diversity, and can support new technologies.

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