No Governance – No Cure

October 2, 2008 by SAP News

Service-oriented architectures (SOAs) are more than just a bundle of technical functions. That would be too narrow a view. An SOA, like good holistic medicine, involves a systemic approach.

However, many IT organizations do make the mistake of equating SOA with technical functions. This leads to a proliferation of services that are scarcely attuned to the business model represented by the core applications. There is a lack of SOA governance processes to regulate the utilization of services. All too seldom do system integrators, programmers, and architects deploy the services that are provided by the software vendor as standard or have already been developed by other teams.

The resulting complexity can make for structures that are more expensive to support than the IT landscapes they replace. Reusability and ownership cost savings – key benefits of SOA – are jeopardized. What is called for is a platform that provides more than just the technology.

Reliable Platform

Alone in the health services sector in Switzerland, SAP for Healthcare delivers not only an SOA integration platform (an all round environment for application development and methodology), but also standard enterprise services. These have been developed in stages over recent years in cooperation with community definition groups comprising customers, partners, and even industry peers. As of this year, SAP has been regularly shipping these standard enterprise services. Combined with the SAP NetWeaver integration platform, they constitute the SAP Business Process Platform for Healthcare, which helps efficiently implement SOA projects and seamlessly integrate hospital information systems. It also helps avoid bad investment decisions.

Services and Organization

An SOA can also improve efficiency and flexibility across hospital departments – provided there is proper discussion across the departments about organizational structures, the shared service model, and the IT budget.

In contrast to classic models, SOA implementation projects should set up an SOA competence center before doing any process analysis or solution design work. The SOA competence center is tasked with rolling out and monitoring SOA governance rules throughout the entire organization. It helps cut costs, mitigate risks, and optimize business processes – and it should integrate functions, processes, and data. That requires close cooperation between administrative, medical, and IT functions.

SAP launched the Enterprise Service Workplace (ES Workplace) Web site as an SOA governance tool where customers and partners can rapidly discover all of the enterprise services using different contextual or indexed navigation views. They can test-drive enterprise services in ES Workplace and deploy them to develop composite applications, for process automation, or for application-to-application integration. SAP publishes a master index of all of its standard enterprise services in ES Workplace.

EAI vs. SOA

But why bother with an SOA? Until now, hospitals in Switzerland have been joining up systems with Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) and linking business scenarios across specific application interfaces. Looked at another way, they have been integrating their data, but not their processes. The focuses of EAI are the integration of data and the uniformity of formats across systems. There are not many EAI tools that help full integration across systems. They concentrate on individual applications, ignoring other key issues, and they cannot handle “many-to-many” application integration. In a word, although they do support the optimization of some processes, you cannot use them to drive the kind of business change that a consistent line of processes can achieve.

Individual Web services were developed from EAI technology. Currently, they are mostly used as a source of microfunctions from individual applications. But Web services only really start to bear fruit if you can model scenarios as business services at the hospital level, incorporating services and combining functions from multiple applications.

For example, from a hospital’s perspective, the admission of a patient entails steps that involve multiple functions and applications. As a rule, the following data has to be recorded:

  • Patient data
  • Reason for admission
  • Bill-to party
  • Internal order
  • Insurance status
  • Contact

Each of these actions can be executed by a Web service or an application service offered by different systems. A complex, self-contained scenario for patient admissions would be an extremely useful business service and would allow for simpler integration with clinical systems.

SAP has put this into practice and developed a technology which extends the syntax and standards of Web services to enable implementation of business friendly enterprise services. Enterprise services are context-specific services at the business level. Like all other Web services, enterprise services can access several applications and individual Web services. Also, like Web services, they can abstract the complexity of the different underlying actions and systems.

To come back to the patient admission example: enterprise services consolidate individual actions into one business service, combining the technology and business aspects.

Process Integration with SAP

SAP NetWeaver Process Integration (SAP NetWeaver PI) is an advancement of SAP NetWeaver Exchange Infrastructure (SAP NetWeaver XI) and strengthens the technological foundation for Enterprise SOA.

Alongside the communication components necessary for the healthcare industry, such as the HL7 adaptor, SAP NetWeaver PI contains UDDI 3.0-compliant Enterprise Services Repository (ES Repository), which connects composite applications and enterprise services.

ES Repository makes it even easier for hospitals to deploy an SOA. The Repository can access more than a thousand standard services defined by SAP, partners, and customers, enabling rapid implementation of new business processes. In contrast to other systems that manage Web services only, ES Repository does not just contain service definitions, but also includes business-process and object models. Thus, customers and partners can define common rules for modeling new applications and reusing components, leveraging SAP Best Practices for the development and management of enterprise services.

SOA is a content-rich environment that can be quickly and flexibly adapted to changing requirements, while still ensuring easy maintainability. The prerequisites are clear business objectives, the enforcement of complexity-limitative rules, and a strict control of the evolving architecture by SOA governance. Without these, the curative effect of the services would disappear.

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