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Service Oriented Architecture provides many benefits to modern enterprises; one of the most valuable is the alignment between IT initiatives and business objectives that SOA enables. In order to better understand the way SOA can transform the enterprise’s IT environment, it is helpful to think of the entire IT stack using a framework that treats it as a type of supporting infrastructure that can be divided into three macro layers (see Figure 1).



The bottom two layers of this framework are the “Technical Infrastructure,” consisting of all the hardware and software that make up the basic computing platforms, and the “Application Infrastructure”, which consists of all of the line of business applications that run the enterprise. Although every large corporation has these two layers in place, the highest business value provided by IT infrastructure can be found at the third layer of the stack, dubbed the “Enterprise Gateway”.

Goals

The primary purpose of the Enterprise Gateway layer is to provide a single point of contact to the entire IT environment for all users, whether they are internal or external, human or machine. This holistic view of the enterprise IT infrastructure is a necessary prerequisite to achieving the higher level business goal of making the company easy to do business with. Providing a single view and point of contact is only part of the story – the Enterprise Gateway layer must also be integrated with all of the back-end systems in order to meet the needs of the business.

The Enterprise Gateway layer is by far the most appropriate place to deploy self-service solutions for business partners, customers and employees. Many companies already have self-service functions but these are often rigid and resistant to change, making it difficult to keep up with a fast-changing competitive landscape. The current architecture of these systems leads to a complete re-development effort every few years as companies in an industry leap frog each other to gain market share. Providing a customized user experience – another key goal of the Enterprise Gateway layer – is only possible when flexible solutions leverage business services provided by back-end business applications.

A lot of companies are beginning to realize that their traditional feedback mechanisms operating on a monthly or quarterly basis are too coarse grained and provide too few opportunities to adjust to changing market conditions. The most successful companies now operate on a real-time basis, providing management with a view into the current state of all of the business processes at any time. Real-time information enables a company to out-maneuver the slower paced competition and focus on the realities of the market rather than outdated forecasts.

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