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Business Transformation in Action

Joe McKendrick

Get Your SOA Running...

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Lately, there's been plenty of discussion and debate in both the blogosphere and on the trade show circuit around how quickly, and whether, SOA delivers value to the business. Many pundits, including myself, say that most SOA gains have been focused on IT optimization, and pure business benefits will come along later.

As SOA efforts progress, more accounts are emerging of how SOA can go right to the bottom line of a business. In fact, ebizQ's latest SOA survey found that business reasons are the main drivers to SOA efforts. Almost two out of respondents, 64 percent, said that the goal of their SOA effort is to "increase business agility," followed by "IT reuse" at 57 percent. "Business process optimization" followed with 55 percent, and another 44 percent sought the advantages of composite application development. "That led us to the conclusion that SOA adoption is really business driven, it is not just for reducing IT costs," Beth Gold-Bernstein pointed out. "SOA is more of a business initiative than an IT initiative."

An impressive example of the SOA-business link is Harley-Davidson, which was able to surpass its older, more rigid technology to a more flexible model that is in tune with the business. I originally posted an account of Harley-Davidson's story a few months back over at my ZDNet blog, but it's such a great example of SOA-business interaction that it's worth repeating here. The motorcycle giant is a shining example of the plan it-build it-manage it credo we talk about here at ebizQ's SOA in Action site.

Harley-Davidson's CIO, Jim Haney, explained how how loose coupling can go right to the business bottom line. In the spring riding season, for example, people begin to wander into Harley’s showrooms with visions of riding on the open road, but haven't quite made up their minds if they would actually go through with buying a motorcycle.

Harley-Davidson is well aware of these dreamers, and actually has marketing programs for turning showroom fantasies into realities. "Those programs are targeted to get those people that are dreaming about motorcycles to actually purchase one," Haney said. "We want to put together a good financial package to entice and incite people to get into the sport."

At first, Harley’s credit and loan origination process wasn't quite up to the task. The problem was that the company's financial services applications were tightly coupled with each other, Haney explained. Making a change in one program meant having to go in and change countless other applications as well. "The way our systems are very tightly coupled, being very rigid from how they are architected, if we made one change to one of those systems that supports one of those processes, we basically have to touch all of the systems."

That's a lot of work and time lost when a new marketing program is designed. Harley's answer was to break it all up. "We actually busted apart all of those systems, and put the SOA with WebSphere in the middle of all that," Haney said. "We loosely coupled these things. Our goal is to be able to change any one of those systems. If we see key indicators in the industry, we want to very quickly put different marketing programs in place, and not have to go and touch and test every single system."

There you have it -- business agility, the ultimate feat of SOA. Again, Harley is more the exception than the rule, but as SOA progresses beyond the confines of IT, the business will discover new ways to reach markets -- and not be hampered by archaic or hard-to-budge systems. "We can change an application, and do it quickly," said Haney. "We can be a lot more responsive to the business, which helps us sell motorcycles — the business we’re in."

In this blog (formerly known as "SOA in Action"), Joe McKendrick examines how BPM and related business and IT approaches can promote business transformation.

Joe McKendrick

Joe McKendrick is an author and independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. View more

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