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How Sun sells its SOA dog food to its own employees

Sure, the internal IT department at Sun uses the company's Java tools for SOA, but getting buy-in from business users is still a challenge.

The first thing Mike Ricigliano, senior manager for integration services at Sun Microsystems Inc., tells his counterparts at other companies is that he faces the same problems and pressures as any other Sun customer.

When you start showing them real-life examples tied to their business process they get it.
Mike Ricigliano
Senior Manager for Integration ServicesSun Microsystems Inc.

As one of the managers charged with Sun's implementation of service-oriented architecture (SOA) using the company's Java Composite Applications Platform Suite (JCAPS), one might imagine that all the business users would be on the bandwagon.

Wrong.

"What I tell customers when I go talk to them is that it doesn't really matter that we work for Sun," Ricigliano said. "I have the same problems any other customer has. We have to keep our systems up. Messages have to continue to flow otherwise we don't make any money."

He does not set Sun up as a paragon of perfection in those areas. Somewhat ruefully he recalls a crash of the systems that support the shop floor operations where Sun hardware is manufactured.

"Basically it shut the place down," he remembered.

In beginning this year's SOA initiative at Sun, he finds the same problems with siloed and redundant applications that face most architects and developers.

For example, there are four systems that process incoming B2B orders, cleaning up data problems, before they enter the main Oracle ERP system, Ricigliano explained.

"We have four systems that do that differently," he said. "We want to consolidate that using SOA into one place where we have common consistent processes across the company. So we're using one business process model. It will give flexibility around workflow and interaction, but it won't be another stovepipe system."

While he can enthuse about the virtues of the JCAPS tools to solve this, one of his main problems has nothing to do with software at the bits and bytes level but everything to do with SOA. He has to get the elusive business user buy-in for the projects he is championing. What might be called the office politics issues of SOA implementation is something he has learned not from weekend seminars, but from the school of hard knocks.

"It's hard to go sell SOA within the company," he admitted. "People go 'Well isn't this just another reuse. Where's the hard ROI here?'"

He quickly found that it didn't work to go into a meeting with business users and talk about SOAP, Web services, UDDI and WSDL, or even the virtues of Sun's very own SOA tools.

"It's very hard to connect the dots for people and show them the real value of SOA," Ricigliano said. "It was all very theoretical. We'd say, 'Hey we're decoupling these systems from each other. It'll be more flexible.' I don't know if they really got that. They could care less about the technology, unless they think it's going to get them something quicker."

So his team began using business process demos. The trick is not to show business users how SOA works, but how SOA can work for them.

For more information
Implications of SOA on business strategy and organizational design

Pragmatic SOA

Business users are aware of services available for processes such as credit checks, Ricigliano said. Oracle and the other software vendors Sun uses are marketing Web services that do common processes in a typical customer order, but the demo shows them how those services can be tied together to handle an entire business process that helps them.

"The end users get that entirely," he said. "When you start showing them real-life examples tied to their business process they get it."

Once that happens, Ricigliano found, it jumpstarts SOA's theoretical potential to unite IT and business users, getting them to develop business systems that do what the business users want and need.

"SOA before was like this low-level thing that developers would know about," he explained. "Now, you're bringing that to business people and your getting business people excited about a piece of technology and that's when they're going to push and say, 'How come we're not doing this guys?' That's when SOA is going to really start taking off."

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