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SOA Success: When IT Enables the Business

by Puneet Suppal

April 1, 2008

When IT reshapes its role in the enterprise as an enabler of creative change, business users can take charge of their processes.
 

SOA success comes more easily in an environment where IT has reshaped its role to function as an enabler of creative business processes. Once IT establishes and deploys standards for governance and solution devel- opment, business users can blossom to their full potential without their activities disrupting the organization. Taking advantage of newer capabilities allows business users to dream, design, develop, and experience rich business processes, making the organization more nimble without unduly burdening IT. Let’s look at some ways that IT can renew the enterprise platform to help enable business processes.

Server-Based Capabilities

Many organizations are deciding on the infrastructure they should adopt or evolve to that will allow business users to leverage Web 2.0 capabilities. Today’s IT environment provides unique SOA-based capabilities for a diverse set of processes. Take mashups, for example, which are Web applications that combine data from more than one source. Providing a layer of server-driven mashup capabilities for organizations can greatly help business users become more self- sufficient.

The question before IT is how to enable mashup ability within the business user group without compromising standards and security. More specifically, how does IT develop and deploy enterprise mashup solutions that best consume data sources, such as Web Service Definition Language (WSDL), databases, and Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds? Remember, most enterprises are characterized by a heterogeneous landscape when it comes to system capabilities. Because users mainly apply mashups to consume existing or older mashups within newer ones, IT must ensure that any new mashup meets the same service standards as all the other data sources have.

In doing it right, enterprises should embark on implementing SOA-based solutions after due diligence, including consideration of the key architectural layers necessary for a scalable SOA capability. To quote Deepak Alur, vice president of engineering at JackBe, a software tools provider, “mashups can be performed on the client side and on the server side. However… the best value of a mashup is when we combine both client-side and server-side mashup functions since we can defer heavy lifting to the server and build intelligent clients that can enhance, complement, and focus on user experience.”

Here is an example of a situation where a redefined IT department can add significant value. By establishing the infrastructure and support model, which use server-side mashup capabilities to enable the creation of client-side mashups, IT truly assists business users who find the heavy lifting somewhat daunting. This not only produces a near-term benefit of helping the organization along its SOA journey, but it also brings IT and the business users closer because this effort requires considerable and constructive interaction. The enterprise stands to gain tremendously from this dynamic.

Newer SAP Possibilities

SAP is responding to a user base thirsting for enriched business processes, taking advantage of technologies that simplify the environment in which they function. SAP is exploring ways to introduce widgetization into its vast ecosystem. (A widget is an applet that can be placed on a Web page.) The SAP Enterprise Widget Foundation (Foundation), initially only available within SAP, has been made public via the SAP Community Network (SAP Developer Network and Business Process Expert communities).

Foundation is a proxy for interacting with SAP. It handles authentication and Remote Function Calls (RFCs) to SAP from an end-user’s widgets. It currently focuses on making it easier to develop and test enterprise widgets before rolling them out to end users. Simply put, Foundation is an application that appropriately interfaces to the SAP system and allows for the creation of mashups using SAP and non-SAP services. Foundation connects to SAP using SAP Java Connector and Web services, and supports single sign-on (SSO) using SECUDE PSE Management software or user password authentication.

Why is this discussion important? Irrespective of whether this functionality makes it to prime time in its current incarnation, SAP is serious about exploring options to provide enterprises with the ability to design and develop rich business processes, spanning SAP and non-SAP applications. The entire range of non-SAP applications will likely extend to popular Web 2.0 options. The goal is to put the power in the hands of the end users once IT adopts the appropriate applications and standards. This is yet another example of a set of capabilities that IT can potentially bring to an enterprise, enhancing the user experience of business processes and demonstrating that IT truly supports the business. Again, this will yield the benefit of having IT and the business jointly engage in an enablement exercise, furthering a very desirable dynamic in the enterprise.

IT the Enabler

Whether IT implements server-side mashup capabilities or works to place Foundation-like tools in an organization’s arsenal, IT has a tremendous responsibility to enable the organization for the future. The glory of IT lies in empowering business users to do everything they can. A redefined IT department must provide the platform for the organization to grow in consonance with the trends around it.

Software companies and providers have taken note of the changed climate and are retooling their offerings to better suit this evolving enterprise need. Now, enterprise IT must shed its fear of losing control over the direction of corporate computing and render less important its desire for unshared credit whenever a new process is enabled. The old paradigm of claiming to be a powerhouse in the organization based on the large numbers in its workforce is no longer a good idea.

Much of what the traditional IT department did can be entrusted to an end-user base that continues to evolve its skills and capabilities. IT must demonstrate its value to the organization by working to renew the enterprise platform, such that the business can be truly enabled with enhanced business process experiences resulting in lasting value to the organization. In yet another gain for the enterprise, the work required to present a compelling case for this platform renewal necessitates a close working relationship between IT and the business, thus releasing more positive energy between these groups.

Puneet Suppal is a solution architect for Capgemini, specializing in SAP-centric solutions that enable a service-oriented view of the business. He is one of Capgemini’s key evangelists, propagating solutions that recognize the impact of Web 2.0 and the use of innovative approaches to expedite the realization of SOA-based solutions. He publishes on these topics regularly, and is a frequent presenter at SAP events worldwide. You may contact him at puneet.suppal@capgemini.com.

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