“Plat-Forming” with Partners

Kiyoshi Masubuchi sees parallels between many customers’ perception of service-oriented architecture and Scotland’s St. Andrews golf course: “expensive, complex, unpredictable, and better left to the pros.” But he also counters, “Service-oriented architecture doesn’t have to be expensive, if done right is simple, can result in a predictable outcome, and works as an IT strategy for businesses at various levels of IT maturity.”

Masubuchi is an executive officer at SAP partner company Toyo Business Engineering in Japan. He traveled the thousands of miles to Walldorf on February 26 to attend the first meeting of the Platform Thought Leadership Council (PTLC), a group of internal and external platform experts who help SAP validate its enterprise SOA vision. Although Masubuchi has witnessed wider acceptance of service-oriented architecture in the last year or so, he still sees a mass of potential, citing the new kinds of business-to-business connections it enables and how customers can use it to re-innovate their processes and business models.

Most debated: economic justification for SOA

Other attendees share Kiyoshi’s positive outlook. Professor Tiziana Margaria-Steffen, from the Institute for Computer Science at the University of Potsdam says, “Companies are rapidly catching on that they can take advantage of service-oriented architecture to better integrate end-to-end processes across lines of business and supply chain networks.” Jörg Witzel, software architect at SAP partner ISO Software Systeme says the business problems are out there and so is the SOA solution – it’s just a matter of time before customers recognize the match.

The agenda topic that sparked the most debate was that of the economic justification for SOA as an IT strategy, especially piquing the interest of the independent software vendors on hand. In his presentation, Michael Zimpel, lead for the End-2-End Adoption Experience workstream of SAP’s Global enterprise SOA Adoption program, described the market for enterprise SOA as near the tipping point. With sustained effort from SAP and its partners, software vendors will no longer rely solely on pushing enterprise SOA; customers will start coming to them. But before the market for enterprise SOA goes from push to pull, SAP and its partners must provide evidence that the platform strategy works. This includes SAP-internal projects such as proof points, as well as small-scale SOA deployments with customers. According to Zimpel, wide-scale adoption will only start when these positive references reach a critical mass.

The right information at the right time

To pick up customers and prospects at their early maturity level of enterprise SOA, SAP is devising an enterprise SOA starter kit, which consolidates the relevant but often fragmented information into a single resource. Using this starter kit, customers will be able to identify their appropriate entry point into an SOA strategy. “Important,” says Zimpel, “is that prospects get the right amount of information at the right time for the right role.”

But the workshop was anything but high-level. Attendees got into the guts of enterprise services, including governance, implementation methodology, as well as enterprise service extension and adaptation. Björn Treutel of SAP Consulting, for example, presented SAP’s enterprise SOA implementation methodology, which includes planning, building, and running solutions based on enterprise SOA. This methodology is an integral component of a “seamless enterprise SOA adoption framework.”

Treutel emphasized the build phase of the implementation methodology, which entails architecting the business process platform, developing the enterprise SOA-based solutions, and defining a governance framework.

Governance accompanies SOA development

Continuing with the topic of a governance framework, Dr. Ute Weber-Schäfer of the Enterprise SOA Delivery Program thoroughly illustrated how governance accompanies all steps in the development of enterprise services. In Weber-Schäfer ‘s words, “a business-driven enterprise SOA is based upon a clear understanding of business strategy and objectives. Business processes need to be defined and engineered based upon this understanding.” According to Weber-Schäfer, the enterprise services design and modeling methodology integrates business processes and business content while also harmonizing Web service technology with business semantics. Good design-time governance is required to ensure that the tools and procedures used by this methodology adhere to architectural guidelines and standards. During her presentation, a demo was shown on how to effectively make use of SAP-delivered content for enterprise services, messages, integration scenarios, and global data types.

For SAP employees like Horst Schnörer, head of the enterprise SOA architecture team for SAP Business Suite, the contact with external SAP stakeholders is extremely valuable: “Because SOA provides interfaces for customers and partners to access our backend systems via standardized interfaces, it’s extremely important for us to get their direct feedback about our concepts and whether they fit their requirements. It’s important as an internal team to have this link to the outside world – to get this feedback during the shaping stages of development.”

PTLC as starting point for dedicated workstreams

Organizers Peter Emmel and Rudolf Held were happy with the convening of the PTLC. “The goal of the PTLC is to investigate in detail – together with SAP development – focus topics that we agree on beforehand that relate to the business process platform,” Emmel says. “Having people from both sides sitting in one room helps create a sense of community that facilitates brain storming and the exchange of ideas.” Held nods, adding, “These kinds of meetings are the starting points for dedicated workstreams. For example, we collected scenarios and use-cases for enterprise-service adaptation and extension that will be used to validate current SAP concepts. Also, we will be holding follow-ups with partners on the economic justification of enterprise SOA projects.”

For Kiyoshi Masubuchi, the Platform Thought Leadership Council meeting has been a great opportunity for partners and customers to exchange opinions and ideas about the future of service-oriented architecture with SAP developers, “getting the concept of enterprise SOA out of the rough and onto the fairway,” he adds.