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IBM and BEA Systems Inc. are expanding their consulting services for companies ready to build service-oriented architectures, which leverage web services standards to integrate information technology systems to support business processes.
IBM, based in Armonk, N.Y., on Wednesday introduced a new SOA roadmap called the Service Oriented Modeling and Architecture. BEA, headquartered in San Jose, Calif., is scheduled to announce on Thursday an expansion of its consulting services for SOAs and a new web-based tool for assessing the readiness of current applications and infrastructures for a SOA.
SOMA, offered through IBM Global Services, maps a corporation's underlying applications and infrastructure with the business processes related to a particular area, such as retail banking in a financial institution.
Once the technologies underneath the business processes are identified, then IT divisions and business managers can work together in deciding which systems need to be modified to support upcoming changes in business operations. For example, a bank may decide to focus IT resources on providing more account-related services for online banking, rather than build out infrastructure to support more tellers.
In addition, the tight link drawn between technology and processes makes it easier for companies to prioritize the work done by IT departments, Jim Hilt, manager of SOA strategies for IBM Global Services, said.
"SOMA is bridging the business to IT to ultimately create new value," Hilt said. "It's basically a roadmap of what to build to support the business."
Many customers that have tested a SOA are asking for help in using the architecture for systems integration related to changes in business processes, Hilt said. Much of the testing has gone on for the last 12 to 18 months, and customers are now ready for broader deployments.
Many experts view a SOA as an evolution in distributed computing that's based on industry standards. Many of those standards fall under the umbrella term of web services, which is integration-related technology based on extensible markup language.
Jason Bloomberg, analyst for ZapThink LLC, a research firm focused on SOA technology, said that with SOMA, "IBM has nailed this one."
"We're quite impressed with the clarity and detail of SOMA," Bloomberg said in an email. "Customers should find IBM's SOA leadership to be relatively straightforward and understandable."
BEA said it was expanding its consulting services to cover all stages of adoption of a SOA, including assessment of current IT systems, planning of a roadmap for moving to a SOA, training of IT staff and actual implementation of SOA-related technology, according to a press release obtained by TechWeb.
On the assessment side, BEA unveiled Wednesday a "SOA Readiness Self-Assessment" tool that measures the impact of a SOA on a company's long-term strategy and near-term initiatives, and documents problems that can be solved by adding a web services-based integration layer.
In addition, the web-based tool assesses the company's current architecture for moving to a SOA, examines shared applications and data services, identifies opportunities for leveraging legacy applications and current IT initiatives, and projects capital and expenses necessary to construct and operate a SOA.
ZapThink analyst Ronald Schmelzer, however, questioned whether BEA had the "talent" to deliver a full set of SOA services.
"BEA is a relative neophyte in delivering professional services-based solutions for things as complex as SOA, and clearly they are trying to compete with the likes of IBM," Schmelzer said. "We'll have to see if they can deliver the (service) offerings without making it simply a way to pitch products."
In focusing on business-process improvement through SOA, companies are embarking on a strategy of expanding their business to meet increasing customer demand, while keeping costs down through the use of standards-based technology.
A recent survey of more than 1,300 chief information officers in 30 countries found that businesses plan to concentrate on growth in 2005, while only increasing IT budgets, on average, by 2.5 percent, market researcher Gartner said. As a result, CIOs are under pressure to create more business value from IT.
In the recent past, companies have focused IT departments on improving the speed and reducing the cost of individual business processes within a unit or geography. That, however, has changed and CIOs are now looking to "re-engineer processes end-to-end from the customer perspective and integrate previously autonomous business processes, information and application software across business units and geographies," Gartner said.
According to the survey, business-process improvement was the top business priority.