SOA: It’s Not Just for the Fortune 500

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Service-oriented architecture (SOA) seems to be a hot topic in IT today, but many small- and medium-sized business leaders might think that—because of complexity, cost or both—that these solutions are only for giant companies and beyond their reach. Not so, said Cristian Sturek, the founder and principal SOA architect of Simi Valley, Calif-based firm XWebServices, which provides SOA analysis to smaller enterprises in the financial, health care, and real estate and mortgage banking industries.


Companies of all sizes can benefit from SOA, which is often inaccurately described as a new concept, he said. “Service-oriented architecture itself is nothing new. The concept of exposing different business processes and incorporating them into applications has been around for a long time. What is fueling this new SOA approach is the advent of Web services themselves—XML and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol)-based Web services—which are standard-based. Thus, every single business process that gets created and exposed as a Web service now has a standardized way of being incorporated with the other services across the enterprise. This has been the reason why SOA has all of a sudden become so mainstream in the IT world today.”


The major players such as Microsoft, Accenture and PriceWaterhouseCoopers in the SOA space offer solutions that are more suited for companies of their own size, Sturek said. “I believe that small- to medium-sized companies have a much different need: They don’t have the capital and they probably don’t have the expertise that larger companies have. What they’re after is more of a mentor, somebody who can work both as a business analyst and project manager—someone who can look at their business processes and create a road map for their SOA migrations.”


SOA consultants or architects hired to assist a small- or medium-sized company with these services must have a handle on the business model and be aware of the software and hardware components within the current IT infrastructure. “We believe that SOA should be approached from the top-down,” Sturek said. “In order to do this approach, you need to have broad industry experience and you need to have vertical knowledge. In most cases, small- to medium-sized business cannot bring in full-blown teams of five to 10 developers that will focus on individual projects. What they need are architects and consultants with business expertise.”


After extensively assessing the firm, outside SOA experts can start to put together a customized “road map” for it, usually involving an enterprise service bus (ESB) or a composite application, Sturek said. “Obviously, cost is a factor, but for the price of the yearly salary that a company would pay for a Java developer or a DBA or a senior architect, they can invest in a ESB or composite application and reap the benefits of getting the SOA integrated immediately.”


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