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By Bob Violino
More organizations are migrating to a service-oriented architecture to reduce the time and cost it takes to develop new applications and revise existing ones.
Gartner last year estimated that a service-oriented architecture (SOA) would be used in more than 50% of new critical operational applications and business processes—and in more than 80% by 2010. The research firm says SOA "has dramatically grown in popularity, and adoption has expanded across vertical industries, geographies and organization sizes."
But moving to SOA can represent a major shift for IT organizations. For example, it significantly changes the way enterprises create new applications.
So experts recommend that CIOs create a SOA "center of excellence" (COE) to concentrate knowledge and promote best practices. And for good reason. Companies, such as Thomson Financial and Railinc, a unit of the American Association of Railroads, that have set up COEs have benefited significantly.
SOA is a way to design software for distributed computing environments that involves the use of independent services, or activities that provide a certain business function, to support the needs of a business. Not only are these services used to exchange information and support business processes, but they can also be reused by other applications.
Among the leading IT vendors offering SOA technologies are IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.
Given that SOA implementations can have a huge impact on IT and the organization as a whole, experts advise setting up some sort of governance and best practices effort to help ensure a successful migration. For many, part of that effort will include creating a COE to gather information about SOA implementations and to leverage best practices within the organization.
A COE is typically charged with helping an organization or individual departments select standards and SOA products from vendors. It also helps plan and develop new SOA initiatives, trains and educates people about services and the use of SOA-based technology, and promotes a service-oriented architecture within the enterprise.
"Anytime you start something new that is going to affect a large group of people, a center of excellence almost always makes sense-at least in the initial stages-so you can concentrate the learning," says Ian Finley, research director at AMR Research, an information technology research firm and consultancy. "As you learn things, that knowledge gets concentrated and you don't have to relearn it."
It's helpful for organizations launching a broad SOA initiative to have a COE "because SOA is both a business and technology strategy," says Judith Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz & Associates, another prominent consulting and research firm. "It requires that organizations bring people together who have knowledge of how the business works and what processes need to be automated as well as how the business is going to change as the organization rethinks its technology strategy."
She notes that companies typically start SOA with pilots in various business units. However, "it is important to leverage learnings and lessons across the organization," she says. "There needs to be a team that can take their experience and bring it to play throughout the organization."
The center of excellence can act as the governance body for an SOA implementation, overseeing what goes into a new architecture that the organization is creating and ensuring that the architecture will meet the current and future needs of the organization, Finley says. "It's a shift from being project oriented to building out an architecture with long-term assets that are going to be used in future projects," he says. "That requires a central group."
Who should be involved in a COE?
Mostly senior architects with experience in SOA, who are also familiar with the business and operational issues of the organization, Finley says. He adds that the center ideally should come out of the IT department.