As I travel the world talking to thousands of our customers about how Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) can help bring them new levels of agility to face today’s unprecedented rate of change, one of the top questions I’m asked is: “What is IBM doing with SOA within its own business?”
It’s a little bit like looking under the hood of your auto mechanic’s car or into the portfolio of your financial advisor. I’m proud to say that IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) does indeed have heavy involvement in SOA. We use these deployments to help make it easier for our customers to take advantage of the many benefits of SOA.
Like lots of other companies that have been around for as long as IBM and have grown through globalization and acquisition, IBM’s IT systems were complex, monolithic, and silo-based. IBM had 128 CIOs (both geography and business-unit based), 155 different data centers, and more than 80 hosting centers that managed over 16,000 applications. Business processes were not clearly defined and were redundant across different business units. This arrangement was costly, prone to error, and was a serious drag to success. Something needed to change.
IBM really began the SOA journey in 2002 when we initially viewed SOA primarily as a way to cut costs. With all the redundancy and overlap in IBM’s environment at the time, taking this approach proved to be fertile ground for gaining experience with SOA and proving some of its merits internally.
The first project that IBM chose was to focus on a 25-year-old legacy system called COATS, which stands for Customer Order Analysis and Tracking System. It accepts hardware orders from business partners, customers, and sales people, and then routes those orders to more than 20 different manufacturing plants.
The system worked very well, but to meet inevitable changes in the way IBM did business, COATS needed frequent updates. As IBM CIO Howie Miller explained, “Each new release took about six months, and more than 8,000 development hours to prepare. So, when IBM went looking for a good place to test the promise of SOA, COATS rose to the top of the list.”
Through service-enablement of much of COATS’s functionality, IBM was able to treat the system as a set of services that flowed together as directed by business rules. We were able to do so without rewriting or altering the stable, trusted legacy system itself. As a result of this project, IBM now saves 25 percent in development costs whenever changes are required of the system. And COATS transactions have dropped from 10 minutes to four seconds.
Building on successes
Early wins like this motivated IBM to consider SOA more strategically and to look beyond cost cutting and more toward the agility that SOA brings to the company.
Let’s look again at IBM’s manufacturing business for an example. IBM focuses on its core strength in many areas and partners with other industry leaders to bring valuable products and services to market.
As part of this strategy, IBM is continuously on-boarding and off-boarding manufacturing partners as our needs shift. As a result, all kinds of back-end systems needed to be integrated with IBM’s supply chain. Unfortunately, this usually took three weeks. In addition to the time, factory on-boarding typically took systems down and the plant would suffer from outages.
To make these changes in a more agile manner, IBM used the principles of SOA to create a set of services called “Factory in a Box” that allow for an open interface into the back-end systems. The services also streamlined the process of bringing new factories on line and severing the relationship if the need arises. As a result, this previously three-week process now takes only two hours.
Governance structure and cultural change
As we recommend to our customers, IBM has not pursued SOA in a “big bang” fashion. Instead, the company has laid out a roadmap of initiatives for itself and implemented it in steps and phases. IBM demands that each project show value on its own merits but also that it contribute to the overall strategic objectives.
Over the years, IBM has undertaken at least 15 separate SOA initiatives, each of which encompass multiple individual projects. IBM recognized that a tremendous benefit of SOA is the continuous alignment of IT efforts to business requirements. Along the way, we have established a governance structure to provide oversight and control of these initiatives as well as facilitate the cultural change elements that come with philosophical shifts like this.
IBM’s involvement with SOA has been a great showcase for us. We intend to continue further investment throughout the company to make ourselves even more agile in the years to come.
— Sandy Carter, IBM Vice President of SOA and WebSphere Marketing