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Business Transformation in Action

Joe McKendrick

How a Short-Term Issue Morphed into Long-Term SOA

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I have always felt that one of the most lucid ROI cases that could be made for SOA is the time savings in avoiding duplicate data entry. Maybe it isn't a strategic global business gain of agility and insight that SOA eventually promises, but its one of those down-and-dirty areas of outright, demonstrable, cost savings.

In fact, back in 1998, when I was first learning about Web services, the killer app was the ability to bring in data from various back-end silos into a front-end composite applications to enable simple address changes. Ten years later, it's still the killer app for Web services, and if implemented with a long-term vision, could build momentum for a full-fledged SOA effort.

That's why this new report by Maria Trombly in ITWorld on a SOA-based implementation at OppenheimerFunds is so interesting. One of the early benefits the financial services broker saw in SOA was the ability to get duplicate data entry under control. Then things took off from there.

As the article notes, OppenheimerFunds had a data entry problem, in that address changes that customers made on its Website had to be manually re-entered into a variety of back-end systems before they went into effect. "There was a lot of retyping the same information multiple times into legacy systems," said Geoff Youell, assistant vice president of architecture. The company took this initiative to think long term, and not only deal with the data entry, but then to also launch a long-term effort to take down the silos and eliminate redundant processes

The challenge was to integrate and provide services to a geographically widespread organization. The company implemented an enterprise service bus (ESB) to kick-start its SOA effort, which involved exposing functionality and data from various back-end legacy systems. The first project was service-enabling the company's customer-facing address change Web application.

As the article relates:

Before, when a customer updated their address using the website, it would take an OppenheimerFunds employee five to seven minutes to process the change. As a result, the company didn't particularly promote the Web-based functionality. Once the back-end process was automated, the company started to heavily promote the self-service functions available on the website - and soon, 70% of all address changes were coming in over the Web. "It was a huge marketing win," he said, and helped build momentum for the SOA project. "One of the reasons for our success, was that right out of the gate we had some legitimate return on the investment."

The article adds that since the address change function was written as a service, it can now be reused in multiple channels. The company plans to hook up the telephone customer service center applications to the new address change function -- using the now reusable customer address-change service.

After the address change service was leveraged, another service was created to update bank information, then to enable electronic imaging of paper-based documents. Today, the article reports, there are 22 legacy applications used, in various combinations, by customer service agents. The company also plans to build a new integrated interface using Adobe Flex and the REST protocol for the Web services.

Truly SOA in action.


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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