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Hundreds of new industry-specific mandates, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and privacy requirements based on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, are either now in place or scheduled to take effect in the near future. While compliance with these mandates may seem a daunting task, businesses actually now have an opportunity to make improvements that go beyond mere compliance to increase the efficiency and predictability of operations.



Unfortunately, many organizations don't view compliance with optimism, and it's easy to see why. Compliance means managing and interpreting large amounts of information from disparate sources. This may require significant changes to technology infrastructures, financial reporting, records management and retention, and risk management practices. AMR Research estimates that in 2005, spending on Sarbanes-Oxley compliance could reach almost $6 billion.

But consider the upside of the result. Accurate, real-time records and content management systems do more than help companies address the requirements of complex regulation. They can spur productivity, enhance customer service and boost return on technology investment.

Compliance Help From SOA

New regulations mean that businesses may have to invest in improving their data management capabilities. The choice they face is between taking an ad hoc tactical approach that deals with individual regulations as they come along or seizing the strategic opportunity to improve overall business operations in the process. The tactical approach is tedious, expensive and time-consuming. Ad hoc techniques don't fully utilize -- or gain insight from -- company information on demand.

Web services -- software that connects application and data regardless of underlying technologies -- consist of a set of industry-standard technologies that can help ease the burden of regulatory compliance. An IT infrastructure composed of collections of reusable Web services to connect data from various sources -- both inside the enterprise and outside at customer, partner and supplier locations -- to solve specific business problems is often referred to as a service-oriented architecture.

So what is an SOA and why is it invaluable? At its simplest, an SOA involves having common business processes available in a central repository for use and reuse, all within a secure and well-managed environment. An SOA provides an enterprise with the flexibility to take elements of business processes within the underlying IT infrastructure and reuse them to address changing business priorities. Previously, when a company needed to change a business process, like complying with a new regulatory directive, the IT department would need months to adapt siloed, manually coded connections in order to move the data in a way that would assure compliance. The loosely coupled connections common in an SOA create a flexible IT infrastructure that can reduce the time to implement that same new business process to just days.

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