As I travel the world talking to our thousands of customers about how Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) can help bring them new levels of agility to face today’s unprecedented rate of change, one of the top questions I’m asked is what is IBM doing with SOA within its own business. Even right now as I am in Lisbon Portugal (a BEAUTIFUL country -- pictures coming!!!!) ....this is the top question I am getting!!!
It’s a little bit like looking under the hood of your auto mechanic’s car or into the portfolio of your financial advisor. I’m proud to say that IBM does indeed have heavy involvement in SOA and that we use these deployments to help make it easier for our customers to take advantage of the many benefits of SOA.
The backgroundLike lots of other companies that have been around for as long as IBM and have grown through globalization and acquisition, IBM’s IT systems were complex, monolithic, and silo-based. IBM had 128 CIO’s, both geography and business unit based, 155 different data centers and over 80 hosting centers that managed over 16,000 applications. Business processes were not clearly defined and were redundant across different business units. This arrangement was costly, prone to error and was a serious drag to success. Something needed to change.
Early stepsIBM really began the SOA journey in 2002 when we initially viewed SOA primarily as a way to cut costs. With all the redundancy and overlap in IBM’s environment at the time, taking this approach proved to be fertile ground for gaining experience with SOA and proving some of its merits internally.
The first project that IBM chose was to focus on a 25 year old legacy system called COATS which stands for Customer Order Analysis and Tracking System. It accepts hardware orders from business partners, customers and sales people and it routes those orders to over 20 different manufacturing plants. The system worked very well but to meet inevitable changes in the way IBM did business, COATS needed frequent updates. As Howie Miller, CIO for IBM explained, “Each new release took about six-months and more that 8,000 development hours to prepare. So, when IBM went looking for a good place to test the promise of SOA, COATS rose to the top of the list.
Through service-enablement of much of COATS’ functionality, IBM was able to treat the system as a set of services that flowed together as directed by business rules. We were able to do so without rewriting or altering the stable, trusted legacy system itself. As a result of this project, IBM now saves 25% in development costs whenever changes are required of the system and COATS transactions have dropped from 10 minutes to four seconds.
Building on successesEarly wins like this motivated IBM to consider SOA more strategically and to look beyond cost cutting and more toward the agility that SOA brings to the company. Let’s look again at IBM’s manufacturing business for an example. IBM focuses on its core strength in many areas and partners with other industry leaders to bring valuable products and services to market. As part of this strategy, IBM is continuously on-boarding and off-boarding manufacturing partners as our needs shift. As a result, all kinds of back-end systems needed to be integrated with IBM’s supply chain. Unfortunately this usually took three weeks. In addition to the time, factory on-boarding typically took systems down and the plant would suffer from outages.
To make these changes in a more agile manner, IBM used the principles of SOA to create a set of services called “Factory In A Box” that allow for an open interface into the back end systems and streamline bringing new factories on line and severing the relationship if the need arises. As a result, this previously three week process now takes only two hours.
While IBM’s line of business owners yawned at SOA’s technical benefits like greater programmer productivity, projects like this that deliver the ability to run the business in a more agile way really got noticed.
Governance structure and cultural changeAs we recommend to our customers, IBM has not pursued SOA in a “big bang” fashion but instead has laid out a roadmap of initiatives for itself and implemented it in steps and phases. IBM demands that each project show value on its own merits but also that it contribute to the overall strategic objectives. Over the years, IBM has undertaken at least 15 separate SOA initiatives each of which encompass multiple individual projects. Along the way, we have established a governance structure to provide oversight and control of these initiatives as well as facilitate the cultural change elements that come with philosophical shifts like this.
IBM recognized that a tremendous benefit of SOA is the continuous alignment of IT efforts to business requirements. To ensure this, IBM created a governance body that brought IT leaders together with business leaders who owned end-to-end business processes. The group guides such areas as ensuring that decisions are made for the broader good of the organization, making architectural, investment, and cost-sharing decisions, and working through cross-functional issues.
This governance body has also worked to update IBM’s culture to fully realize SOA’s potential. With more patents than any other company, IBM has a longstanding heritage of invention. Developers are rewarded for patents. But to foster greater reuse, they are now also rewarded on the basis of how often their creations are reused by others. It is shifts in mindsets like this that really accelerate SOA’s value.
IBM’s involvement with SOA has been a great showcase for us. We intend to continue further investment throughout the company to make ourselves even more agile in the years to come.[Read More