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Gaining reusability in SOA projects

Service-oriented architecture grew up to be a lot of things over the years - some things simple, some not. But it is good to be mindful that what underlies the best of SOA aspirations is a search for useful simplicity. Reusability remains a primary SOA goal. Particularly, the business side of the house must benefit from a company’s

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SOA efforts.

That was borne out recently as we listened to Patrick Sullivan, chief architect at property and casualty insurance giant Chubb Corp., who spoke on SOA at IBM’s Impact 2012 event. Sullivan told Impact attendees that SOA can reduce complexity, and promote reuse, but that SOA does have its upfront costs. The business leaders of the firm need to see progress so those upfront costs can be justified.

Eventually, SOA can make it less costly to re-link business processes in new, beneficial combinations, indicated Sullivan, but it can demand certain patience on the business side. Careful planning and early achievements help pave the way for what Sullivan calls “business value delivery.”

“We sold the SOA business case,” said Sullivan, speaking of the early days of Chubb’s SOA experience. Then, he said, business leaders “funded the business case.” Just as importantly, the IT side held up its end of the agreement, managing to deliver most deliverables on time. It was challenging in the early going, but, like other experienced hands, Chubb’s SOA effort is becoming more manageable over time.

“Now it’s not so much of a challenge about what are they are going to get back from SOA, because they saw a roadmap and they saw it delivered,” he said.

Chubb’s efforts combine two established approaches, Sullivan told the Impact crowd. That is one, use of “Prescriptive Target Architecture” that reduces the number of decisions and tradeoffs enterprise architects, project architects and solution architects need to make. And, two, use of SOA to speed development and reduce costs via software reuse. Along the way, an integration competency center became part of the mix. Its goal is to provide the organizational, process and technical foundation for implementing SOA at Chubb.

Identifying architecture qualities and the opportunities for reuse of enterprise platforms and application components was a major drive behind Chubb’s work. Among the IT policies Chubb installed to assure adherence to the SOA plan is one whose title says it all. Policy N. APP-004 is called “Reuse before Buying, Buy before Building, Build for Reuse.” Sullivan can point to 129 instances of reuse since the inception of the SOA program. One SOA service, that is, policy retrieval, leads others in dollars saved to date.

There’s nothing magical about SOA, in Sullivan’s opinion. It is, instead, just the best way to approach modern enterprise software projects. “SOA is just good design,” he said. “‘SOA’ is just marketing spin on good design.”

This was first published in June 2012

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