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How to Explain SOA to Your CIO
Here's what you want your CIO to know about service-oriented architectures to move your company in the right direction.
by Linda L. Briggs

October 1, 2004

You know how it works with the latest buzzword. The day is coming when you'll run into someone from top management in the elevator, or in the hallway after a meeting, and he or she will casually ask, "So what are we doing these days about SOAs?" That's when you want to be ready with just the right amount of information to help a top-level business executive understand why a service-oriented architecture (SOA) is beneficial and something you're well-positioned for even though it won't solve every IT problem. To help you explain that and more, here's a primer on the strategic ideas and business benefits behind SOA.

For starters, some quick points on SOAs: As nearly everyone is fond of pointing out, service-oriented architectures have been around for a long time. It's a fairly simple concept, really: to standardize software functions, or services, so that numerous dissimilar applications and technologies can share them—both inside and outside the company. The loose coupling of systems and data that is the hallmark of SOAs helps address what has become a huge problem in business: complex, inflexible systems that don't share data well and can't be reconfigured quickly to meet changing business needs.

"If you're looking at your organization, you probably have duplicate systems and processes with a lot of copying and pasting from one system to another," according to Dave Mendlen, Microsoft director of Web services marketing. "For example, there's a lot of investment in CRM systems, but [companies] haven't gotten a lot of benefit from it. [With an SOA], you can now leverage that investment and get reuse at a macro level."

Predecessors such as CORBA and EDI never quite delivered on their premise of universal interoperability because they are tightly coupled, and because the technical community hasn't been able to agree on universal standards. With XML and Web services in place, and more key standards falling into line all the time, service-oriented architectures can finally start to fulfill their promise.

In explaining all this to your CIO, you'll want to be careful about distinguishing between Web services and service-oriented architectures (see "SOA: Debunking 3 Common Myths"), according to Jason Bloomberg of ZapThink, an analyst firm that specializes in XML, Web services, and SOAs. "They're different things and have different implementation patterns and different rates of return. Web services are more tactical, solving integration issues; SOAs are more strategic and provide greater business utility." Web services are some of the parts, in other words; SOAs are the connections between them.

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