SOAs help improve dialogue between IT, business users

Shaygan Kheradpir, CIO at Verizon Communications, gets several mostly cordial instant messages a day from line-of-business workers -- like customer service representatives -- asking for help with their IT systems.

Kheradpir, whose IM address is available to all of the company's 250,000 employees, largely credits the company's four-year-old service-oriented architecture (SOA) for a comfortable relationship between IT and Verizon business groups. He said the SOA has eased low-level technical work, giving IT developers more time to work with end users when building applications.

Verizon's CIO spoke at the BEAWorld 2006 conference, held in San Francisco this week, where he and other users said they are expanding their focus on SOA and eyeing an emerging set of tools that promise to even better nurture what has long been an often-thorny relationship between business and IT.

At the conference, BEA brought out a new middleware offering, SOA 360, that includes components aimed specifically at improving companywide collaboration on development projects.

Core to the new middleware is WorkSpace 360, a unified set of SOA tools designed to bring business analysts, architects, developers and IT personnel into a shared work space for collaboration and interaction, according to BEA. WorkSpace also includes the SOA metadata repository BEA gained with its acquisition of Flashline Inc.

Mike McCoy, director of architecture and quality engineering at Accredited Home Lenders, said at the conference that he is on the lookout for tools to improve collaboration between IT workers.

McCoy said his firm would be interested in using WorkSpace if the mortgage lender's 50 to 75 services could easily be added to the Flashline metadata repository.

Clinton Chow, chief application architect for the city of Chicago, said his organization is seeking tools to improve collaboration between technical and business users.

"We have developer-centric collaboration tools, but they are not business-user-friendly," he said. "You want to satisfy the business needs, but business users don't care about the underlying technology." Tools that would "enable the business units and technical side to convey their thoughts would be very helpful."

Kurt Anderson, administrator of the myAflac portal at the American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus (Aflac), said his company built a Web service that allows 11,000 insurance agents to access different types of data so it doesn't have to print and mail such data. The Aflac SOA application cost US$600,000 to build, and the company estimates it will result in savings of more than $3.2 million annually.

Anderson said Aflac would be interested in using WorkSpace to help streamline communication between business analysts and IT staffers. Such tools can help the company improve its governance efforts, he said. Shawn Willett, an analyst at Current Analysis, said that despite BEA's "rhetoric," he expects different corporate groups will continue to work in their silos. "That it just a reality," he said.

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