Ser­vice-Ori­ented Ar­chi­tec­ture (SOA)

Finweek English Edition - - Communication & technology - BENE­DICT KELLY

OUT OF ALL the IT terms mired in jar­gon and dou­ble­s­peak, the de­sign of com­plex soft­ware sys­tems to pro­vide ser­vices to large or­gan­i­sa­tions is one of the most prom­i­nent. From ob­ject-ori­ented de­sign to web ser­vices and acronyms such as XML, the field is lit­tered with in­com­pre­hen­si­ble jar­gon that few out­side the in­ner sanc­tum of the IT de­part­ment un­der­stand. Ser­vice Ori­ented Ar­chi­tec­ture (SOA) is one of th­ese.

Rather than be­ing a tech­nol­ogy, this is rather a fun­da­men­tal approach to how a com­pany would link the way it does busi­ness to the way it de­signs its soft­ware.

In the past, com­pa­nies would build so­phis­ti­cated IT sys­tems that for­malised the way they did busi­ness. For ex­am­ple, if an air­line was tak­ing a book­ing, it first col­lected the client’s de­tails, credit card in­for­ma­tion, date of travel and des­ti­na­tion be­fore check­ing flight avail­abil­ity. If you wanted to re­ar­range the or­der of th­ese steps, it would take both time and money to change the IT sys­tem to make it pos­si­ble.

The approach taken by SOA is to first map out what the dif­fer­ent parts of the busi­ness process are, in this case cap­tur­ing per­sonal in­for­ma­tion, credit card de­tails, des­ti­na­tion and date of travel and look­ing at each one as a sep­a­rate part of the sys­tem.

Then when the soft­ware pro­gram is be­ing writ­ten, each part of the process is built into its own lit­tle mini-pro­gram, which all link to­gether to make the whole. It’s now pos­si­ble to shuf­fle the var­i­ous bits of the process around so you can cap­ture the des­ti­na­tion and check for avail­abil­ity first and get the credit card de­tails last.

It sounds ob­vi­ous but there are mil­lions of other pro­cesses in ev­ery in­dus­try where shuf­fling round the steps could speed up the pace of do­ing busi­ness and cut costs.

In ad­di­tion, chang­ing one part of the sys­tem – for ex­am­ple chang­ing the way the com­pany pro­cesses credit cards – would only en­tail a change to one small part of the sys­tem with rel­a­tively lit­tle side ef­fects on other parts.

The key to SOA is break­ing down the en­tire busi­ness into small bite­sized chunks and let­ting IT deal with each sep­a­rately.

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