Integration Concept of the Future for the Midmarket

Integration projects – as associated, for example, with launching corporate portals or e-commerce solutions – have been time-consuming and expensive in the past, owing to the application-oriented architectures that dominated. According to an ibi Research study, this results from thinking in terms of monolithic applications and has often led to a lack of transparency in interface landscapes and high IT operating costs in SMBs.

Software as a service

In contrast, service-oriented architectures (SOA) are geared to business processes. This involves business processes – such as authentication and customized provision of IT resources in a corporate portal – being carried out by various software components. “From a technical standpoint, the idea is not even entirely new,” observes Marcus Hammer, Senior Consultant at META Group Deutschland, “as large applications are supposed to be broken down in favor of business processes. So the aim of an SOA is to provide functions as modular and re-useable services.”
New applications can then be combined “virtually like Lego bricks” from services already in existence. This helps businesses modify, enlarge and therefore optimize their existing applications by changing around individual services. “The key benefit of an SOA as opposed to other integration methods is its high flexibility as it ensures the components implemented are re-used in various situations,” states Rainer von Ammon, Professor of Software Engineering and Distributed Systems at the Upper Austria University of Applied Sciences, explaining the benefits. “This almost inevitably means that an SOA focuses on the actual business processes, while the technology as a means to an end becomes less visible.”

Reducing interfaces, enhancing transparency

In META Group consultant Marcus Hammer’s eyes, “the concept of a service-oriented architecture is also interesting because companies in the future will be able to integrate third-party applications faster and more cheaply into their existing architecture.” The prerequisite for this is, for instance, new generation ERP software such as mySAP ERP, which has a modular, flexible structure and specifies all interfaces as Web services. Just as important is an appropriate infrastructure offering, as supplied by SAP with the various SAP NetWeaver components. SAP NetWeaver functions as a technological platform for service- oriented architecture SAP Enterprise Service Architecture (SAP ESA). Its applications are open and compatible with established Web development platforms, e.g. J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) or .NET. The result is a comprehensive SOA that enables different applications (both SAP and non-SAP) to communicate easily via standards, promising major potential savings in B2B business processes.
This accelerates business processes, such as order management or purchase orders. They are linked to a great variety of systems and information sources in specialist departments and at external partners. Web Services integrate individual applications and combine them in a single user interface, e.g. a corporate portal, where they are made available as a ‘service’ for both internal and external users. The services are loosely interconnected via standardized, cross-platform interfaces. This ensures a transparent and constantly up-to-date overview of all data relevant to the business. A company can even react fast to unexpected market changes and can, for instance, change or adapt its procedures for accepting orders or its ordering process.

Re-usability boosts effectiveness

The appeal of an SOA is obvious. With business processes and ‘conventional’ software systems becoming ever more complex, maintenance and development of interfaces between the various systems are also becoming more complex. According to Gartner Group estimates, this aspect consumes up to 40 percent of a company’s IT budget. That is why companies are attempting to structure their heterogeneous system landscapes more flexibly and clearly, using service-oriented architectures (SOA). A Forrester study (‘Integration in a Service-Oriented World’) shows that an SOA can reduce costs for maintenance, development and integration by 30 percent or more. Savings of this kind are made possible by standardization and re-usable system components, among other things. In this situation, reusability is the mantra of an SOA, according to Ronald Schmelzer, Chief Analyst at US consultants ZapThink.
A further point – highlighted by Forrester analysts Ken Vollmer and Mike Gilpin – is that internal and external information can be exchanged faster and more effectively with partners, customers and suppliers. “This makes companies much more agile,” explains Marcus Hammer. Forrester analysts advise comparing reusable services with current business processes so that they can make them recognizable to users. People, information and business processes need to be integrated across very different technological and organizational structures.

Structured launch saves money

However, Vollmer and Gilpin warn against expecting savings to occur in a linear fashion when introducing an SOA, as the start-up costs of an SOA project may very well be greater than in traditional launch projects. Reducing long-term expenses depends on a structured launch. Firstly, say the two experts, the basic structure of the future architecture needs to be determined and then the company’s internal SOA components need to be integrated. Following this, new integration channels are created and, in the final stage, partners, customers and suppliers are eventually incorporated in the new architecture. Experts from ibi Research offer similar arguments, although they state that the primary goal – cutting costs – is achieved through three ‘secondary goals’:

  • Reducing redundancies, i.e. identical functions at distributed points in the system, and re-using components.
  • Loose linking of services based on open standards increases the flexibility of IT systems and, ultimately, of companies.
  • Encapsulated services possessing standardized interfaces homogenize communication between systems in distributed and therefore complex and non-transparent IT landscapes.

That’s why the name of the game in SOA projects is to ‘think big – start small.’ Companies should always start an SOA with key vertical processes (e.g. incoming orders) and the supporting horizontal services (such as sending documents by e-mail or fax). According to ibi Research, midmarket businesses believe the major challenge of SOA projects lies in the complexity of the organizational and business issues rather than in technological factors. Therefore, when launching an SOA, collaboration between the IT department and specialist departments is an all-important ingredient for success. This impacts on company structures too as responsibilities and access rights are re-organized. “Ideally, an SOA ensures that companies concentrate on their business processes and not on software,” concludes Marcus Hammer.

For further information:

Miscellaneous: (Here, Michael Stevens describes ‘The Benefits of a Service-Oriented Architecture’)

Dr. Andreas Schaffry
Dr. Andreas Schaffry