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Business Transformation in Action

Joe McKendrick

Promoting SOA to the Business: Working Examples

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Last week's IBM IMPACT conference was packed full of sessions, but one I found really interesting was a panel of C-level execs led by Judith Hurwitz.

Steve Pratt, CTO of CenterPoint Energy, an electric utility, said his company saw the need for service-oriented approaches to better leverage its "SmartGrid" initiative. "It was the largest single project our company has ever undertaken," he explained. "We were applying digital technolgy to the electric grid." SmartGrid required the exchanging of messages, which needed to be properly prioritized -- such as an outage. The company employed an ESB and business process management to manage the workflow. "SOA gives you a modeling technique that you can apply to things you had never done before," he said.

Rao Tadepalli, CIO of Republic Indemnity, said even though his industry is slow to adopt SOA, due to the inherent nature of their business, "most insurance companies are service-oriented companies." In the case of Republic, Tadepalli's team set out to service-orient the company's policy renewal process. Importantly, the term "SOA" was never used in the proposal to the business, he recounts. "Instead of focusing on SOA, we focused on business benefits," he said. "The bottom line was to help the efficiency of the underwriters. That was the message to the business, that this wasn't just to help IT." 

Pratt agreed, noting that CenterPoint's project was called "Business Service Orientation."
Pratt added that executive sponsorship is also key to the success of any SOA-based project.

"If you treat SOA like normal IT, then it's destined to fail," Bob Bates, VP of technical solutions for Affiliated Computer Services, also agreed. "SOA is just the architecture underneath your solution." Communication is also essential, he pointed out. "Every morning at 9:00, we have a meeting of all developers, testers, and business analysts."

"IT is often seen as a cost center," Tadepalli said. "That might not change, but what we can do is start communicating the value of what we bring to the table. Bring value, shorten time to market."

Panelists also advised gently introducing SOA principles into the organization. "Don't force SOA on anyone," Pratt said. "Look for volunteers to step up. The success of the smaller group will make larger groups want to get in on the action."

Tadepalli said it's important to make the SOA effort a learning experience, and to develop the skills of those who are willing. He quoted Benjamin Barber: "I don't divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures, those who make it or those who don't. I divide the world into learners and nonlearners."

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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