SOA-based system upgrades for both state and health care organizations can work to deal with common problems of rules rigidity and disparate systems. As the state of Kansas recently demonstrated by awarding a five-year contract to Accenture for a new SOA-based benefits eligibility system, the headache of strict state rules can be relieved by a system that supports multiple business rules systems, employs various software components and focuses on flexibility. As Sharp Healthcare’s recent experience shows, SOA-based projects running on an Oracle Bus Service can help to build a patient-oriented system to integrate health record information within health care organizations. Just as these SOA-based system upgrades are planned and designed with care, the expanding wave of cloud computing integration calls for careful planning so that system rebuilds are done right.
One of the primary goals of SOA is to save the business money by reusing services rather than building new services or buying outside products. Insurance giant Chubb Corp. has seen dramatic improvements in this regard since the early days of their SOA adoption. "We sold the SOA business case," said Patrick Sullivan, chief architect at Chubb, then business leaders "funded the business case." Just as importantly, the IT side held up its end of the agreement, managing to deliver most deliverables on time.
Sullivan refers to this important concept as "business value delivery." It was the topic of his SOA discussion at IBM's impact 2012 event. In that session, he outlined best practices in formal policies with such telling titles as "Reuse before Buying, Buy before Building, Build for Reuse." According to the veteran SOA architect, there is nothing magical about it. Sullivan concludes, "SOA is just good design. 'SOA' is just marketing spin on good design."
SOA as a project continues to edge into the mainstream, but SOA as a program remains in the early stages. Today's development managers are keen to see case studies and hear about "lessons learned" in this still-new area. SearchSOA.com’s 2011-2012 reader survey bears this out: The data shows 77% of survey respondents have a SOA or are investigating one, but only 28% have of respondents’ organizations have multiple SOA projects underway.
The shift from one-to-many SOA projects remains a challenge for many organizations. To address those hurdles at IBM Impact 2012 in Las Vegas, focus on SOA knowledge and best practices took the form of several sessions that outlined the “SOA Journey.”
Daniel Neal, general manager of Australia-based Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, said that business leaders will call for clear return-on-investment (ROI) benefits, and these may require very careful selection of the early application targets for SOA transformation. "You will find it hard from an ROI perspective if you do not have a strong business process to work on,” he said.
States looking to upgrade and modernize decades-old human services systems face the added challenge of complex and specific state rules. In dealing with such a system overhaul, the state of Kansas recently awarded Accenture a five-year contract to replace its benefits eligibility system with a rules-flexible, SOA-driven alternative.
The new system, known as the Kansas Eligibility and Enforcement System (KEES), supports various business rules systems and combines both commercial and open source software components. With functionality top-of-mind, the system takes a modular approach to SOA to enable the handling of legacy renewals on a managed basis.
Likewise, the platform emphasizes rules flexibility and adaptability to head off the usual pitfalls of installing brand new systems incompatible with preexisting, non-negotiable state rules. By utilizing multiple commercially available rules engines and BPM tools, Accenture seeks to implement a new system that is – unlike most state systems – componentized and changeable over time.
Health care organizations seeking a system upgrade contend with multiple department services and various applications that require unification. Michael Sanchez, principal Web architect at Sharp Healthcare, recently discussed building an effective SOA-based system with an ESB joined to a portal to integrate health care record information in three disparate applications already in use.
Sharp Healthcare adopted Oracle SOA Suite and Oracle WebLogic Suite to support its mySharp patient portal, and the project runs on an Oracle Service Bus. Sanchez noted that the use of the Oracle ESB was crucial to unifying the disparate systems to ensure that they could work together to generate one response for inquiring patients. Sanchez said Sharp Healthcare is able to add new back-end patient care as needed, and hopes to expand its portal to include other systems in its hospitals.
Many adopters of Platform as a Service (PaaS) and cloud computing are sold on the idea of faster integration development, but they fail to see the potential dangers of rushing to deploy those applications. As cloud adoption spreads, the upsides and downsides of fast integration development emerge.
One early cloud adopter, Pradip Sitaram, recently highlighted the hazards of rushing to implement cloud applications. The temptation to start building cloud-based systems, he said, can lead to critical oversight if requirements and testing are ignored in the process. Sitaram, CIO of Enterprise Community Partners LLC, noted that when implementing its own cloud-based software, his team took time to carefully plan the best design methods. “Integration is the result of good architecture – it’s not the other way around,” he said, warning that thorough software development processes are still critical for the successful adoption of PaaS and cloud computing.
In areas like railway signaling, change is underway as new open standards and multi-country cross-border signaling systems come online. Recent work by Spain-based rail signaling company Invensys Rail Dimetronic reflects an industry shift toward larger “systems-of-systems” and greater reliance on software in product building. As companies like Dimetronic update transportation industry systems, the major goal is interoperability to ensure that systems’ software elements can operate successfully with various equipment and be re-used in different parts of the world.
According to Gartner Group, the Value Area Network (VAN) may be further re-positioning as a cloud services brokerage, or CSB, just as many IT shops look for convenient ways to get involved with cloud computing. A CSB can enable faster, smoother cloud computing adoption.
The cloud service broker can help foster SOA and cloud use among mid-size organizations, suggests Paul Stamas, CIO at Mohawk Fine Papers. This is especially important as SOA and cloud computing will play an increasingly central role in integration, according to Stamas.
''SOA and cloud are a means to an end,'' said Stamas. ''What I focus on as CIO at Mohawk is the design of new business models. We need to interoperate with a diverse ecosystem of customers and all kinds of third-party trading partners. We create a value proposition through an ecosystem of companies,'' he said. That ecosystem includes Amazon, Kronos, StrikeIron, SugarCRM and others, as depicted in the Gartner case study.
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