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Innovate with SOA - II

It Helps If You Can Find Your Assets With Both Hands

This article originally appeared in NOW Magazine, which retains all rights.

One way for IT execs (and their business-line compadres) to get a handle on innovation is, first to inventory all their existing assets. Determine the value of these assets (such things as hardware that can run a thousand user applications, an application that checks credit, a service call that looks up a customer record) then work to leverage them by exposing them as heterogeneous services rather than siloed applications. The services-based approach to IT is not new at this point in time. But it is still a novel idea to many organizations to begin to inculcate innovation by liberating the services within existing assets and rebuilding those services into a services-oriented architecture (or SOA).

“Imagine all assets being a portfolio of innovation,” says a software executive interviewed recently by NOW Magazine. This includes legacy assets, and yes, this includes legacy mainframe assets. Not the “hairball” of Sun Chairman Scott McNealy’s piquant description, mainframes instead should be viewed as potential repositories of “gems and jewels,” according to this exec, who points out that “innovation doesn’t have to sit in one area.”

It’s clear that regardless of the innovation game, SOA is a required strategy based on the need to reduce IT expenses through massive re-use and flexibility. As companies realize the role SOA can play in completely rebalancing the maintainance-to-innovation spend, the demand for “service-orienting” everything should take off, by this reasoning. The potential for exponential growth in services will lead to new complexities and challenges, of course. So then the question becomes, how will these services be developed into composite applications, deployed, managed and governed?

End-users, after all, whether employees, partners, or customers, don’t get their groove on, at least these days, by mastering the intricacies of siloed, specific application environments. It’s what those apps can do—the services they can provide—that rock users’ worlds today.

Service virtualization rocks IT managers’ worlds as well. When services become pervasive, how are you going to manage them? How do you deploy, then govern them? This is where SOA boldly steps in. Repeating the mantra that SOA is not a product, you can’t buy a SOA, it is imperative to realize that you can build one.

This is where virtualization escapes the confines of buzzwordism and enters the realm of the practical. When assets are pulled out—decoupled, liberated, decomposed, whatever term you wish to use—of legacy systems and integrated into new, composite applications, web services, or nascent SOAs, they must be virtualized, and here is where the concept of “service virtualization” gains traction.

We’ve been down the virtualization road before, quite recently, in fact. With hardware and applications becoming increasingly pervasive, so grew the challenge to effectively use these assets, and virtualization blossomed. People familiar with age-old concepts such as virtual memory and virtualized storage suddenly needed to wrap their minds around the virtualization of hardware platforms (not just the storage subsystems) and the software that resided on these systems.

Once down this virtual path, it requires only a minor leap of faith to envision service virtualization. As applications become virtualized, it becomes clear that the value of those apps lies within the services they deliver. So those services must be pried out, then integrated into the new, virtualized environment.

We’re All Architects Today
Without getting hung up on the role of the architect, it is clear—paraphrasing Richard Nixon’s comment about Keynesian economics--that we are all architects today. That is, all members of the IT department as well as business-line managers must think conceptually—think innovatively—about their IT assets, infrastructure, and what it should be doing for the business.

SOA can serve as the secret sauce in letting your company start to turn your innovation spend inside out, to start to reverse that seemingly intransigent 80/20 ratio. “Don’t look at existing assets as closed assets,” says one software executive. “Leverage them to start to reverse 80/20.”

Innovative services are created and deployed by thinking in this new, open way. The innovation may lie in creating a new interface that lets users access numerous applications while they are completing what looks to them like a single process. The innovation may lie in faster performance that allows a new feature or two (perhaps a quick survey or bonus offer) to be added to the process. Or the innovation may lie in the creation of an entirely new experience—a community-oriented asset-sharing service, for example—that nevertheless leverages something as wizened as a long-existing relational database.

NOW Magazine bills its focus as “Enterprise Architecture Principles and Practices.” Best practices typically form the core of the ubiquitous Centers of Excellence that one finds at major technology provisioners and buyers throughout the world today. But why not turn those Centers of Excellence into Centers of Innovation? In fact, “practices” today can also refer to “next practices,” and core to innovation is the concept of identifying next practices, making them operational, setting them up as best practices, then moving on in a constant innovation loop.

Many universities have developed such centers, as have various entrepreneurial incubator-type organizations. But this brings back to the nature and definition of innovation. Rather than seeking to build that better mousetrap, a corporate Center of Innovation can focus on those Best Practices that understand all IT assets as gems and jewels, and work to reverse the ratio in ways that don’t reflect a zero-sum game mentality. Are you up to this challenge? Have you already risen to it?

Follow the author at www.twitter.com/strukhoff or www.nowmagazineblog.blogspot.com

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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