It’s a wrap Featured

7:00pm EDT January 29, 2008

Arecent survey of CEOs found their No. 1 objective is growth, followed closely by margin. In order to secure this growth, companies have to deal not only with the opportunity side but also with constraints of existing IT systems.

“Seventy percent of the CEOs cited IT as a key to growth, but 60 percent of those same executives said that IT is inhibiting growth,” says Bill Russell, executive vice president of Allegient in Indianapolis. “That’s because the existing systems and architecture do not have the flexibility to become agile and poised for speed or to drive customer value.”

Smart Business spoke to Russell about the shortcomings of legacy-based platforms and how companies are successfully “wrapping” these older systems with services-oriented architecture (SOA) to extract maximum speed and value as they modernize for their growth initiatives.

What symptoms indicate shortcomings with legacy-based platforms?

The main symptom occurs when you’re not meeting the new business solution time-lines. In other words, the legacy platforms actually become an inhibitor. The second symptom arises when a larger and larger share of your IT budget is going to maintenance because there’s a cost side to keeping those big, monolithic transaction systems running. Finally, companies are finding themselves stretched because the resident subject matter expertise is getting smaller and smaller. You’re probably dealing with an extraordinary retirement curve because most of the people who grew up supporting these systems are boomers with 15 to 20 years in, and they’re coming up on retirement. So where are you going to find support for these legacy systems?

What is the timeline for the end of legacy-based platforms?

I don’t know if we can talk about the end of these systems, but these systems as we know them today are probably going to have to change significantly within the next five or seven years due to their lack of flexibility, the boomer retirements and the absence of skilled resources to keep them optimized.

Why are there so many definitions for SOA?

There are so many definitions because SOA is a lot of things. It’s a strategy, it represents an organizational model, it represents a management discipline or method, it is an architectural approach to computing, and, finally, it is a technology platform with a set of technological capabilities. I define SOA as a new kind of a distributed, modular computing model that’s going to be utilized to become more agile, to speed up the applications that can be built, a way to reuse IT assets at a lower cost and a way to modernize against some of the older, existing platforms.

How are companies successfully transitioning into SOA platforms?

Companies are using SOA as part of their modernization strategy. The fastest way to do this is to look at a business problem and see whether the way to solve that business problem, if you’re going to use technology, is through a services-based approach. The emerging standards allow you to abstract parts of applications and/or parts of data services that can be published and consumed by other applications. This concept of composite applications means you can use a set of these published services, stored in a repository, to build a new composite application — and you can do it faster and cheaper. SOA also is being utilized as ‘wrappers’ for older legacy systems. You’ve probably heard, ‘We’re wrapping our legacy application in order to deploy it or utilize it as a service,’ or, ‘We’re wrapping a part of our legacy application or our legacy database and exposing it as a service to be utilized.’

What are the soft spots of SOA?

The fact is that some of the service standards are still firming. But major players like IBM, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard are providing major horsepower behind the standards movement. The platforms to manage or govern the services you build inside your enterprise are also immature. The ultimate vision is that these services will be published outside your company for use by other organizations. This is still risky because federated security models are not as widely deployed as they will be, and outside-the-firewall services-based architecture is probably the most complex.

How is SOA architecture altering traditional business models and roles?

SOA is a new architecture, a new strategy and a new organizational model. It is changing many aspects of the IT and business world as they go toward this culture of agility and reusability. There will be new roles and new skills from both the business contribution and the technology side. Emerging business roles, like content developers, business rule developers, process modelers and scenario developers, will collaborate with the new technology roles, including composite application architects, service developers and service assemblers. When combined, this all new, collaborative SOA framework will deliver faster and better business value.

BILL RUSSELL is executive vice president of Allegient in Indianapolis. Reach him at (317) 564-5701 or