Packaged Composite Applications demonstrate benefits of SOA

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2005 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Anyone who has bought and had new kitchen equipment installed will know that the process is full of potential problems and irritations. Take a simple example of replacing a combined oven and hob with a separate electric oven and gas hob, then throw in a new microwave for good measure. Choosing and ordering the equipment either in the shop or via the web is the easy bit. Following that:

  • the electrician
  • the gas fitter
  • the carpenter for modifying the fittings
  • the logistics for delivering all the pieces at the right time
  • the logistics of removing the old equipment
  • the inspection of the finished work

all have to be orchestrated by the vendor so that the customer is not left cooker-less. Organising this is a challenge for the vendor because all the different parties will belong to different departments or very possibly different enterprises. They will use different back office computer systems that do not naturally connect together. The independent systems will not understand or even recognise the inter-dependencies between the different steps.

However this challenge is nothing in comparison to dealing successfully with changes. If the microwave is out of stock does the vendor reorganise everything or just arrange a separate delivery and installation. If the customer has to change the original date how does the vendor ensure that the inspector does not come before the fitting is complete.

What is needed is a computerised business process that understands all the necessary steps and processes that are required when creating and making changes to such a business transaction.

Sterling Commerce has been helping clients to implement similar business processes for many years and last year it extended its capability when it bought Yantra and its fulfilment applications. What became apparent was that the business process definitions were very similar across different enterprises and even different industries. The back offices systems could all be very different but these differences can be hidden behind a services interface.

Based on this experience and understanding, Sterling Commerce has just announced two packaged composite applications (PCA):

  • Customer Order Management – designed to assist retailers with their complex order fulfilment requirements in a B2C environment.
  • Networked Warehouse Management – a fully functional “Distribution Centre in a box” with pre-defined best practice processes to allow distributors to manage complex fulfilment requirements.

The PCAs are based on, and include, the Yantra applications, and extend them with pre-packaged definition of the business processes and the definition of the services required for the processes to work. The process definitions are built using Sterling Commerce’s Multi-Enterprise Services Architecture (MESA) which I discussed in Integrator moves further into business solutions earlier this year.

The separation of the process definition, using MESA, from the underlying services means that businesses have a great deal of flexibility in customising and modifying the business processes without having to touch the services provided by the Yantra applications. Also, and just as importantly, it allows the integration of existing applications that the business has installed; this means that the installation of a PCA can quickly provide extra functionality and flexibility, without having to rip out existing function. This is an essential attribute in computing today as nearly all enterprises have existing applications that work and businesses cannot afford to replace them just to get a bit more functionality; what they want to do is to add the new function without having to break anything first.

MESA enables and ensures a clean separation between the business process definition and the services that it invokes. This separation means that the same business process defined in a PCA can be implemented by two different enterprises even though they have completely different back office systems. Further, as all the definitions are configurable, the two enterprises can modify, sub-set, and extend the processes to reflect their exact requirements.

Using the process templates provided in a PCA, Sterling Commerce has shown that an enterprise can implement new business processes in two to three months. These new processes can be implemented alongside the existing solutions without any need for rip and replace. When the new business processes have bedded-in, decisions can be made as how best to provide the underlying services, whether to maintain and enhance the existing back office systems, or to replace old legacy systems, or to outsource the service altogether. These decisions can be implemented without having to alter the business process definitions. On the other side, the business processes can be altered and extended to meet new business requirements without having to alter the underlying services.

This separation of business process definition from underlying services greatly increases IT flexibility and enables IT to support the business agility required by senior management.

The PCA templates have enabled Sterling’s customers to implement an SOA solution rapidly. This has enabled them to demonstrate the benefits of SOA to their own IT and senior business management. These proof-points and the relative ease of installation should ensure that SOA solutions and their business benefits spread swiftly within these organisations with a rapid benefit to the bottom line.