Using the jargon of SOA with business executives is not the way to get SOA done, says Manny Montejano, CTO for Cars.com, the online automobile buying and selling website visited by "10 million car shoppers each month."
Montejano speaks from experience. Cars.com is the third company where he has implemented SOA, he said. All the SOA implementations were driven by business needs, foremost among them the need to make a profit, he said. The terminology he uses when discussing SOA are time-to-market, agility and reliability.
Asked how he explains the business value of SOA to business executives, the CTO says, "The answer is simple. I never utter the term SOA. What I ask business executives is what is their tactical and strategic vision for their business, and then align the SOA to achieve their visions."
Then he explains that the architecture initiative he is working on will help meet the business goals. Implementing customer relationship management (CRM), business intelligence (BI) as well as order-to-fulfillment, order-to-cash applications all under the SOA umbrella, is presented to the business executives in terms of their bottom line goals, Montejano said.
From the IT perspective, he said, SOA is important because it provides the reliability and agility needed to respond to business requirements.
"One of the biggest pain points IT organizations face in a fast moving market is the reliability of a fast-paced development environment," he said.
Reliability is crucial, Montejano said, because if a new application is going up and down all the time, both the business users and their customers become frustrated.
"So reliability was one of the things that drove this SOA initiative, another was agility in terms of being first to market with products as well as responding to the market," he said.
He offers a wide-ranging definition of the market for Cars.com, which is part of Classified Ventures, LLC., owned by five media companies: Belo Corp., Gannett Co. Inc., The McClatchy Co., Tribune Co. and The Washington Post Co.
"When we talk about the market, folks will put us in the automotive space, the Internet space, the online media space, the online advertising space," Montejano said. "The answer is all of the above. Our revenue comes from multiple sources, our advertisers, our dealers and our consumers. So we need to be responsive to the consumer market, the dealer market and the advertising market."
The implementation of SOA is designed to help the IT department help the business respond to the changing needs of the multiple markets where Cars.com operates, he said. The company is 18 months into SOA and Montejano estimates that he is "30 percent down the road" with SOA and it has been a learning experience.
"We've really just begun and some of the things we've gained are lessons learned," he said. "I'm not saying we've done everything perfectly every single time from the get-go, which is where our lessons come from. We've learned lots of lessons specifically that this is a business initiative not an IT/technical initiative. We are transferring the evangelism for this initiative from the CTO – in this case me – to the other executives who have a vested interest in getting these initiatives done."
As an example he points to the order-to-fulfillment and order-to-cash portions of the SOA initiative where he is deploying IBM WebSphere-based technology, but the vision for the project is coming from the company president, CFO and sales people, who are in control of what Montejano calls the "business knobs."
"When they tweak a business knob," he said, "SOA is going to enable the transparency of the effect of the tweaking and the effect that they have on our bottom line.
As an example of SOA agility, he points to the partnership Cars.com announced with Yahoo! Autos late last year, which required the quick integration of data feeds between the two companies. Without the SOA technology already in place, he said that integration would have taken "a very long time," which could have scuttled the partnership because time was of the essence in this business deal.
"Both Yahoo! Autos and Cars.com wanted to roll this into production in December 2007," Montejano recalled. "Without SOA, we would have missed that deadline. We wouldn't have been able a few years back to even entertain such an initiative."
To do the integration without SOA in place would have required purchasing new hardware and software as well as rewriting applications, the CTO estimates. But with SOA in place, IT was able to re-use the existing business logic for handling data feeds.
"That allowed us to not only say yes to the business, but meet their business deadline," Montejano said.