Getting a Handle on Complexity

The SOA Days 2008 conference in the Post Tower in Bonn, Germany symbolically integrated the earlier separate conferences, Business Days and Technology Days, into a single event that attracted 270 users, consultants, and employees of manufacturers. The director, Johannes Helbig, Deutsche Post AG, has a simple creed. “We believe that the separation of business and IT is increasingly artificial. With SOA, the business and benefits take precedence,” he says.

In a global economy, the borders between companies are becoming increasingly blurred. Business processes run across company boundaries and include partners and customers. Applications follow the same trend. It is increasingly irrelevant if processes run in a company’s own application domain or in a partner’s domain. The collaboration of applications between companies and their partners is becoming a key factor for business success.

A common language

IT is the starting point for opening up a company’s own application landscape and linking to partner applications. With service-based interaction, logs, and, most important, the common language of business and IT, SOA designs are particularly helpful, especially beyond the borders of any given company.

For example, order management at Deutsche Post and its business partners shows the ability of such a design to work in the real world. At Deutsche Post, 1,200 postal employees and 10,000 external users collaborate successfully. The system processes up to 10,000 transactions an hour and 3.5 million orders every year.

The SOA Days 2008 conference proves that SOA is not just a flash in the pan – that it is driven ahead by users who usually participate in a comparatively small SOA task force. Some projects have already delivered their first results. The presentations at SOA Days 2008 – most given by large companies – show a common foundation of experience and knowledge. The SOA activities of these companies are all moving in the same direction, which differs from the situation a few years ago. Companies have realized that they must get a handle on the management of their highly complex IT systems.

Applying a modular strategy to IT

Michael Gorriz, CIO of Daimler AG, implemented SOA to give his users the most flexible environment possible, one they could quickly expand and adjust as necessary. His basic presupposition was that “in a company that manufactures motor vehicles, reusability must be present.” For his inspiration, Gorriz looked at production, where the company already works with a modular strategy. Plans call for a tool kit with 100 modules that can be used in all Mercedes series. Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche wants this approach to reduce complexity significantly, improve quality, lower costs, and shorten development times.

The SOA reference model of the vehicle manufacturer works with an enterprise service bus that links blocks of applications: SAP, J2EE, mainframe, and .NET. Gorriz’s employees have already developed prototypes for applications, including one for order management. The prototype uses the purchase requisition service from SAP. 2-D and 3-D parts visualization services based on SOA principles will enable various systems and clients to access visualization data across departments during early development stages.

Gorriz and his team will also continue to develop the company’s SOA road map, continuously check its implementation, and verify it periodically. Gorriz indicates that SOA requires consistent development documentation. Because user departments tend not to provide such documentation, IT handled the documentation itself and created the process models for the user departments. Gorriz says that the collection now contains 576 processes that are used to categorize applications.

Making IT flexible

For Claus Hagen, director of integration architecture at Credit Suisse, SOA is an important part of flexible IT. His bank has worked with SOA in four major projects since 1998.

The Credit Suisse Information Bus (CSIB), developed in 1998, now offers more than 1,000 services. All applications for private banking use or offer these services. Earlier, says Hagen, the core systems were extremely interwoven, which made it absolutely necessary to clean up the structure. Today, services link all domains and high-level components and can be called only from CSIB. Direct access is impossible.

In Hagen’s experience, SOA begins to bear fruit only when a critical mass of services is available to users. Credit Suisse reached that point after about four years. Today, 15 million calls run over the CSIB every day – which is just about the limit for the bus. Management becomes more complex for more than 1,000 services. That’s why the bank wants to develop a business service model and convert to Web services in the long term.

Credit Suisse began a global SOA project in 2005 and has developed and globally implemented 30 Web services so far. The goal is to continue to reuse front-end applications with various local back-end systems. For governance, the bank looks to the structures of the CSIB project. In the same year, Credit Suisse began a project called Disentangling the Mainframe (DiMa). The project was to disentangle and modularize the monolithic mainframe application landscape with its 17 million lines of code to simplify maintenance.

The fourth SOA project is the Banking Industry Architecture Network (BIAN). Credit Suisse began the project in 2006 with SAP and 11 large banks. Today, 36 financial service providers are involved. The goal of BIAN is to define the structure, systematization, and content of SOA for banks and contain a common catalog of services. It also seeks to create a market for components based on a common SOA layer.

Finally, Hagen also plans to move the processing of transactions from the mainframe to Java – a volume of 500 transactions per second. According to Hagen, SOA allows mainframe and server-based transaction systems to coexist.

Open questions with conversion to SOA

In addition to these examples, many presentations showed how difficult it can be to convert an SOA design into operative processes. For example, how can companies tailor Web services to make sure that they have neither too much nor too little functionality? How can they generate services with a model-driven architecture? Or even more basically, just what is a good service? What does a good service design look like? What are the hallmarks of good architecture?

Flexibility and reusability are often used as the main arguments for SOA designs. But how do you measure the flexibility of an application landscape? Should reuse of services be rewarded and a failure to reuse service be punished? If so, how? Success is its own reward – even for SOA – but how do you measure success and the correct tailoring of the service landscape? And finally, the most uncomfortable question: how can you guarantee quality at a reasonable cost?

The director of the SOA Days, Johannes Helbig, summarizes: “We ask these questions every day. We have resolved most of them in theory but have not yet come close to implementing them.”

SOA Innovation Lab

Founded in the fall of 2007, the SOA Innovation Lab can provide help for SOA issues. The first German user association for SOA and enterprise architecture management includes more than 20 companies that work together to develop knowledge. The association’s agenda includes topics like EAM maps, SOA training, and SOA technology stacks. It plans to create working groups on governance, modeling, and business case and argumentation.

The last point is important, as shown by two answers to the question of a CIO can sell SOA to a CEO. “I don’t argue with SOA; I hide it in my budget” says Daimler CIO Gorriz. With an IT budget of about €2 billion, that’s rather easy to do. Kurt Lermann, chief architect of group functions at Zurich Insurance, took another path. As he says, “the process of convincing three CEOs and COOs to invest money in SOA is not subject to an entertainment tax.”