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Business Transformation in Action

Joe McKendrick

SOA Like 'Changing the Engine While the Car is Running': Sound Familiar?

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We all know how the big banks have really fouled things up as of late, so it's nice to know they've been doing one thing well -- service oriented architecture.

ITWorld's Rich Levin recently spoke to John Stepper, managing IT director of equity derivatives and equity finance at Deutsche Bank, which recently launched an SOA effort now encompassing more than 100 projects across the bank.

First thing the bank's SOA effort had going for it: support from above. An "influential board member" directed the bank to build its operations around an SOA methodology. So there was important support right from the top. With this mandate from on high, Stepper launched "an expansive yet Agile methodology that is quickly moving the bank to a global service-orientation, with a minimum of fuss and pain."

The bank's SOA effort began with commonly shared assets that could be embraced quickly by different businesses, Stepper explained -- infrastructure utilities, such as hosting environments, enterprise service buses, workflow engines, single sign-on mechanisms. "The first few steps to being a service-oriented enterprise and using SOA actually wasn't SOA at all, but a pre-SOA agenda of being able to create infrastructure utilities that could be shared across the bank. The next wave was introducing a proper SOA infrastructure."

The bank, in partnership with TIBCO, IBM, and other vendors, created a global enterprise service bus and workflow infrastructure to go through the application portfolio and start to expose content as Web services.

Stepper reported that his team now has "on the order of 100 small to large projects in flight, all in relation to the projects across the bank," along with some large flagship initiatives "that can show the power of being service oriented whether that's about instrument data, account opening, derivatives, transaction processing front to back."

Even with support from the top, there were headwinds from the organizational culture, with the typical problems of individual fiefdoms. Governance was a critical element for the Deutsche Bank effort. "What we didn't want to do is just turn all the activity onto SOA and create spaghetti; to let 1,000 flowers bloom into something that, in the end, doesn't really add up to much," Stepper is quoted as saying. "We did something that's not too common for Deutsche Bank, which is, we created some cross-bank governance structures for our SOA program."

He added that "Most people will hear the word 'governance' and tune out. But this was a group making sure that a group of people across the bank were able to pick up the early work of the infrastructure, and expend that to training and communications for the flagship project to the service development."

This was a critical element, since the goal of the effort was to re-engineer the way technology decisions are made.
"In a bank as large as ours, it takes time for [integration and information sharing] to be relevant to the thousands of applications and thousands of human beings who work in IT operations."

In retrospect, Stepper would have made governance his first priority. "I think we underestimated how large a transformation this could be; that is, going from vertically-aligned IT operations environment to something that's trying to make much greater use of shared assets." SOA governance requires a change in mindset, he explained:

"It's not just about teaching developers how to use Web services. It's changing how the funding is done for shared services. It's putting governance structures in place. It's defining engineering and process standards. It's creating new roles where you have actual process analysts; roles that just don't exist today."

Deutsche Bank's example is a best practice that many organizations can follow. The lesson here is that SOA is not a "technology" that gets dropped into the organization; it's an organizational transformation process.

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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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