Introducing SOA to the IT organisation

Introducing Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) to an organisation will shift support focus from a product to a customer view on the IT organisation. In this paper I will describe the consequences of the introduction of SOA for the IT support department.

 

Introduction

Traditionally we see that applications are specifically designed for one or a limited group of departments within a larger organisation. Effect of this is that the organisation has to offer a wide set of applications with the possibility of overlapping functionality and additional support overhead. A secondary effect is that data is scattered throughout the organisation, which makes integration and a hard to impossible task.
To alleviate these problems of heterogeneity and interoperability we can introduce SOA to an organisation. SOA should provide the organisation with a platform for building application services with the following characteristics:
          Loosely coupled
          Location transparent
          Protocol independent
This introduction will shift focus from department specific applications to a single enterprise wide platform offering services. These services will be orchestrated to form one or multiple composite applications.

 

Consequences for the IT support department

Focussing on the effects of SOA introduction to an organisation on the supporting IT department, we separate operations (technical support) and functional support.

Operations (Technical support)

Changing the IT environment from department specific applications, a vertical approach of offering several separated application ‘pillars’ to an organisation, to a single enterprise wide framework responsible for multiple composite applications, a horizontal approach, requires a shift in technical support focus.
Traditionally, service level agreements are written on a ‘per application’ bases. Describing factors like uptime requirements and security considerations for each application within an organisation with limited or no focus on interoperability. By introducing SOA, ‘per application’ focus will need to shift to an enterprise wide focus. Service level agreements will not only need to describe each (composite) application, but also the underlying platform (and services) which is the base for all (composite) applications.
Advantage of SOA to the operations department is that knowledge can be shifted from a vast amount of department specific applications to a single set of enterprise wide services, reducing the amount of support personal which will result in lower overall maintenance cost. Disadvantage can be found in service dependency. Failure of the platform or even part of the platform can cause downtime of multiple composite applications. To reduce this risk, the SOA framework and services need to extra attention during the design and implementation phase, resulting in higher initial setup cost.

Functional support

From a functional point of view, introduction of SOA will change the focus from department specific to enterprise wide. Functional support needs to shift from traditional application specific knowledge to in-depth knowledge of the entire set of offered SOA services. The roadmap of developing services can best be determined on an enterprise architectural level, functional support needs thorough knowledge of this roadmap to offer and design composite applications for customers.
Major advantage of SOA for functional support is reuse of existing platform services to form new composite applications; shortening the time it takes to provide new functionality and improving application interoperability. A disadvantage of this can be that department priorities can differ from the enterprise service roadmap. This might result in later development of the department-required services, which delays introduction of the required functionality.

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