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SOA Reduces Risk and Cost in Shared Services Projects


Found in: Enterprise Technology

Apr 25, 2008, By Merrill Douglas

Time and time again, we hear that technology silos are bad news. The notion of 15 public agencies each building an infrastructure to run its own applications conjures images of wasted space, money, manpower and time.

For many, the solution for this kind of redundancy is to share. "Shared services" has emerged as a popular buzzword. But what people mean by that term - exactly what's being shared and how - depends on whom you ask.

It may mean a service that a central group provides to the whole enterprise; managing human resources or accounts payable for an entire state government is one example. "In the context of a lot of the public sector, it's oftentimes things like network communications, IT infrastructure and data centers - so you see all those data center consolidation exercises," said Paul Wheaton, senior vice president and chief strategy officer of Five9 Technologies, a Chicago-based IT management consulting firm that has helped several state governments with consolidations.

But to Gartner analysts, a shared service is slightly different: an organization governed in part by the customers it serves, rather than a consolidated center created by executive decree.

"True shared services involve three elements," said John Kost, managing vice president at Gartner and a former CIO of Michigan during the mid-1990s. "No. 1, that the customers are involved in governance. No. 2, that the organization that's running it is billing back all its services to its customers. And No. 3, that there are mutually agreed-upon service levels between the customers and the organization running the operation."

One of the more interesting forms of shared IT service is creating software services that perform multiple functions for several organizations - not simply moving servers, storage and technicians into a central facility. The best way to accomplish this kind of sharing, some experts say, is to use service-oriented architecture (SOA).

SOA is an approach to software development that relies on reusable components and open standards. The idea is to create a collection of services in the form of discrete software modules that can be combined in different ways to create different applications. They're a bit like Lego blocks, with standardized connectors that bind each piece to every other piece. You might use the same plastic blocks to build a model of a castle or a dinosaur. And you might use some of the same software blocks to build, for example, an online application that business owners use to apply for permits, or a different application that caseworkers use to enroll clients for benefits.

Discussing the role of SOA in creating shared services can be confusing because people also use the term "shared services" to denote the software modules themselves. Under the SOA approach, the software blocks are called "services," and numerous applications may use the same block in different contexts.

"When you talk about it in really tight IT terms, shared services is a component-based architecture, where you decompose a business service into elemental parts and then provide those common components for other people to adopt," Wheaton said.

Still, if you stick to the idea that "shared service," means an entity that serves multiple customers with software to meet their business needs, there are good arguments for using the SOA model to achieve that mission.

Source:   Found in: Enterprise Technology, Apr 25, 2008, By Merrill Douglas, SOA Reduces Risk and Cost in Shared Services Projects

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