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The enterprise application as we know it is dead. Zombie-like, it still lumbers along, lifelike enough to fool many IT professionals. But, make no mistake – it is dead.

In today’s climate of ever-accelerating change, big, one-size-fits-all applications do not help organizations do business more effectively. The monolithic applications that prevent companies from adapting to new business challenges are giving way to a matrix of services that has come to be called the service-oriented architecture (SOA).

The characteristic complexity and rigidity of traditional systems results in the too-familiar misalignment between IT and the business. The IT side is bogged down with the burden of maintaining 20th century systems and processes that have become too bloated and inefficient to deal with the demands imposed by the 21st century business environment. In many organizations, that maintenance burden approaches 80 percent of the total IT budget.

This is not news to IT professionals, who for years have put up with these headaches because they had no alternative to automate critical business processes. Inflexible automation was better than no automation at all – until now. Enterprises can now adopt an SOA and create applications composed of modular software components that are interconnected through well-defined, open Web service standards.

Just as companies moved from mainframe to client-server, so must IT move from monolithic applications to a matrix of loosely coupled Web services that enable the composition and re-composition of business processes.

For example, checking an account balance is a common function in banking applications. In a traditional architecture, each new banking application would include code to check balances. In an SOA, by contrast, “check account balance” would live as a Web service. Any application requiring that functionality can simply link to the appropriate Web service.

The biggest benefit of SOA is flexibility. An SOA allows the enterprise to quickly change its infrastructure in response to changes in the business environment, because most of the basic processes are already available as Web services. New functionality can be developed as a Web service and linked back to other necessary business processes. The business can adapt and thrive.

While the value and inevitability of building service-oriented architectures are generally recognized, many organizations have failed to revamp their approach to building software. Almost everyone understands the importance of a service architecture’s ability to deliver cost savings and agility. But we are in the frothy part of the adoption curve, where everyone is adopting SOA -- even those who aren’t entirely sure how to do it.


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