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Business Transformation in Action

Joe McKendrick

SOA Provides a Moving Experience

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There's been a lot of debate and discussion across the industry as to whether SOA can deliver value to the business early on, or if its more of a long-term process.

For one company working with SOA methodologies for the past 10 years, there clearly has been a long-term benefit, in terms of economies of scale. The earliest services may have not been more cost effective than standard applications, but as SOA and reuse grew, these services grew cheaper and cheaper to use and administer.

Then again, a $5 billion logistics and trucking company ought to know plenty about economies of scale. It may cost $1,000 to ship one refrigerator from New York to Los Angeles, but cost a penny if it's intelligently bundled with another shipment. Why not apply this know-how to its information technology infrastructure?

One of the best and earliest examples of heavy-duty implementations of Web services and SOA is Con-Way Inc., a logistics and trucking company. I first spoke with them and documented their efforts back in late 2004. At the time, Con-Way had already been evolving an SOA infrastructure for several years, enabling its seven separate business units to share standardized customer-facing applications. At that time, Con-Way had about 20 coarse-grain business components, such as a shipment component, purchasing component, and customer component.

SearchSOA's Rich Seeley just spoke with the folks at Con-Way, and, needless to say, the company has come a long way since 2004. For one, revenues at the freight transportation company were only making a measly $2 billion when I last spoke with them.

Shibashis Mukherjee, Con-Way lead enterprise architect, told Rich how things came about, dating back to the 1990s, when the company embarked on a component-based methodology to expose COBOL mainframe applications as services. The company began building various Web services earlier this decade.

Con-Way set out not knowing how much services would be reused -- but this was very much their design goal. . "When we built services at that point in time, we built every piece of functionality as a reusable piece of code," Mukherjee said. "We had no idea whether it was going to be reused or not." However, reuse across the company's various business lines took off.

The result was a multiplier effect as SOA gradually took hold in the corporate culture. "It took a couple of projects to see all the benefits," Mukherjee said. "You don't generally see the benefits in the first project you do. We also had executive management buy-in and we had a long-term vision. So as project after project is done, our development time was cut as we reused components built by the previous projects."

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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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