SOA and process designers

A post last week on the problem of the economics of process change by Christopher Koch at CIO.com states the problem succinctly:

IT is in a mess because we have business processes that are locked into source code that is difficult to change or modify?that?s the real issue underlying the argument. That makes customization a dirty, expensive word.

Although he admits to possibly being “drunk on the Service Oriented Architecture Kool-Aid” that’s around, he sees SOA as a potential solution to the problem:

There needs to be a separate layer in the architecture for integration and business process change and coordination. Though web services aren?t always at the core of the layer, the concept of services is.

“Services” as a concept is interesting in this context, although I believe that SOA is just the flavour of the month in terms of naming. We did things like this years ago through appropriate encapsulation of functionality, and although our tools were a bit cruder than what is available now, we were essentially building services — when we did it correctly. Web services, WSDL and UDDI certainly make it easier to share these services, and I completely advocate their use for services to be shared within or between organizations.

The basic issue is that process designers shouldn’t need to understand the internals of the applications that they are orchestrating: they need to see applications such as ERP as a set of properly encapsulated, business-oriented functions that they can call at any point in a process. That means that the relevant functions within “legacy” applications (for lack of a better word) need to be exposed as discrete operations, and that an appropriate process orchestration tool be used to tie them all together.

And in another article of Mr. Koch’s that he links to from the above-mentioned post, he wraps the whole issue together with enterprise architecture, a concept that I also mentioned in a post last week. As more companies recognize the flexibility and business alignment that EA brings, process orchestration will take a more central role since it allows the IT assets that are enumerated through EA to be combined in new ways to serve the business needs.

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