Australia Post delivers SOA for agility

To increase customer service innovation, national postal service Australia Post has implemented a service oriented architecture (SOA) which integrates its customer-facing and back end systems.

Australia Post's development partner for the project was the Telstra-owned Kaz Group which is beginning to find market traction consulting on and developing SOA frameworks.

Kaz Group's IP transformation practice leader, Dr Paul Baker, said Australia Post invested in portal technology to "improve customer service" and the best way to achieve this was with SOA.

At the heart of the project is BEA's WebLogic application server which is used to integrate the e-procurement, EDI, and delivery systems. Australia Post's"virtual infrastructure" integrates information from the front-end systems across Microsoft Office documents, Web sites, and mobile devices with the enterprise systems including Post BillPay, SAP, and CorProcure. The system also integrates with external applications like Google search.

Instead of having a massive enterprise application, Baker said by adopting an SOA approach Australia Post is now able to develop applications faster and lower its development costs.

Baker was reluctant to disclose how long the integration project took other than to say it was only "a few months".

Baker said when developing an SOA, legacy can be a problem, because the old IT infrastructure "is in the CIO's hands".

"We are working with our parent company Telstra on a workforce management deployment project which has 49 applications connected to it," he said, adding the big cost was not putting the system in but taking the old one out.

"Old systems are tightly coupled and SOA allows them to be more loosely coupled."

Baker said the real story behind SOA is business agility where requirements are defined as services, and dubbed it BSI, or business SOA integration. "Agile methodology assumes business requirements will change [and] now you can access them independently," he said.

Tim Sheedy, IDC Australia software and services research director, said improving the ability to respond to business change is the number one reason why organizations move to SOAs.

"Moving to an SOA is not a small job by any means and you need proper IT and business governance strategies," Sheedy said. "It's all about governance. Strong governance will see a successful SOA."

Sheedy posed the question: "Is your organization an iceberg or a lighthouse?" Where an iceberg is "peddling to keep the shop running", a lighthouse is a "visionary wanting to benefit from IT".

"We're trying to align IT to the business, but IT is rigid and not flexible," Sheedy said, adding that dynamic IT is not merely a way to make vendors rich. "The long-term future is the ability to see business processes and make intelligent decisions around BPO [business process optimization]."

Because of a "dependency stack" that needs to be overcome before you move to an SOA, "organizations have to start at the bottom".

"SOA is no longer a vision of the future with 30 percent of organizations in Australia starting to architect their applications this way," he said.

"We used to get competitive advantage from vendor IP, but now we get competitive advantage from agility."

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