How important is a design-time metadata registry/repository to the success of an enterprise service-oriented architecture project?
Based on his experience, Doug Smith, vice president for technology strategy at Dun & Bradstreet Corp., would answer with a single adverb: Extremely.
For the past couple years, Smith has been tasked by D&B's CEO and CIO to redesign the 165-year-old company's IT infrastructure for the 21st Century. This includes finding a way to rapidly design and develop the business information products for which the company is famous.
He decided that SOA was the answer to re-engineering IT and a design-time metadata registry/repository, in his case Logidex from LogicLibrary Inc., was the key to implementing an enterprise-wide SOA environment.
Starting off, Smith decided SOA would make it possible to move from legacy systems without losing the valuable data and expertise in the applications, which are the heart of the product D&B delivers to its business customers to support decisions ranging from purchasing to partnering. After all, D&B's global commercial database contains more than 100 million business records and that data alone needs to be preserved as well as updated in new applications.
"What differentiates us is our ability to add value to that data, make sure that data is timely and make sure that data has a high degree of accuracy," he explained.
At the start of his massive re-engineering project, he said, "I stated that one of the things that we could do by moving to an SOA platform is future-proof our aging platforms giving us time to migrate customers to alternative products. We could also maintain the investment that we have in areas where there is knowledge or logic within those systems where you might not want to shut it off immediately, but you might want to migrate that in a more cost-effective manner. You might also want to start thinking about how you might commoditize your business process."
As Smith saw it there were business processes that were used in perhaps 20 or 30 D&B information products. His thought was to commoditize those processes through a repeatable service that "time after time has some level of predictability in terms of service quality."
"SOA allows you to imbed IT processes repeatedly across multiple products that you are going to be selling to clients," he explained.
By employing the same tried-and-true process in multiple services, development teams could more quickly assemble new applications, as well as capture existing logic for replacing legacy applications. But to do that, architects and developers needed a knowledge base that would tell them what services were available and also provide governance – a key word with Smith – for how they could and could not be used.
"That's how selecting LogicLibrary came into play because Logidex allows us not only to make sure that the development teams would have access to the enterprise architecture artifacts, but it also allow us to use the product to enforce governance. We realized that moving forward with an SOA implementation was not about just the technology. It was really about how you could bring in tools to facilitate the governance process, everywhere from finding the artifacts to making sure the artifacts were certified to understanding the impact associated with making changes to artifacts or components."
As work began on the SOA implementation starting with a pilot project in 2005 and grew into a major undertaking this year, Smith and the architects and developers at D&B found unexpected benefits of a design-time registry/repository. It provided not only an inventory of artifacts, it also showed the consequences of changing or removing them.
"Application rationalization was tied to artifacts and knowing what would happen if we decommissioned a particular artifact in our environment or an application," he explained. "What other artifacts were using that component?"
While governance, like testing, is sometimes seen as a necessary evil in development, Smith's experience was that having a tool that showed the cause and effect of making changes to artifacts actually improved cooperation on projects.
"Being able to do a cost impact analysis to support the re-engineering efforts, we found that the strong cause and effect allowed increased communication and collaboration far better than we had before," he said.