The year is 2025. You are at the Detroit Auto Show. The internal combustion engine is on the decline, and alternative energy vehicles are no longer alternatives. Walking the show floor, two apparently identical vehicles, parked side by side, captivate you. Both are ruby red. Both have the classic lines that scream performance.
However, it is the engineering and extreme performance under the hood that real car aficionados desire — and when you pop open both hoods, the differences are startling. The first vehicle’s engine compartment is a mess of exposed machinery. Traditional in its design, every component is clearly custom fitted. Pipes, wires, belts and rods are visible everywhere. To replace a component requires a mechanic certified for the vehicle caste and model.
The second car could not be more different. Opening the hood reveals what appears to be a sealed black box. On closer inspection, you see each engine component is itself a sealed black box, but smaller. Each has a handle, a latch, and is labeled with a function: CPU, fuse block, motor controller, DC fan, tach and more. A turn of the latch frees a component, which slides out easily for replacement or upgrade. Each component has a standardized connector that allows any compatible device to be used. Any mechanic, even trainees, can swap components in minutes .
EAI: The Legacy Approach to Integration
Fantasy? Perhaps when it comes to automobiles — but not when it comes to e-commerce. The first vehicle — the one with the patchwork quilt of customized parts — represents how most e-commerce sites are built today, using a process known as “enterprise application integration” (EAI).
Every connection from the e-commerce site to existing business systems (such as inventory, order entry, ticketing, payables, receivables, and marketing content) is cobbled together by hand. Every connection works only with the e-commerce system, and nowhere else in the organization. Connections often have to be “mended” when there is a technical change in the back office.
EAI requires custom code, proprietary third-party tools, interfaces, or middleware to work — sometimes all the above. Data moves through a EAI system slowly, typically not in real-time. Worse, the EAI learning curve for developers is steep, costly, and time intensive.
SOA: A Better Business Model
The second vehicle — the one with the modular black box for an engine — represents a new way of thinking. It is called a SOA, for “service-oriented architecture.” It is a seismic departure from decades of EAI, and its transforming information technology. Instead of focusing on point-to-point technology patchworks, a SOA treats integration requirements as a documented set of open, plug-and-play business services.
Industry-standard open technologies, such XML, XSD, WSDL, JAX-WS, and BPEL, are used to connect services. Data flows in real-time, giving customers’ up-to-the-second insight into inventory, accounting and so on — giving management unprecedented visibility into business metrics. For IT teams, all the SOA interfaces are governed, stored, and documented in a common corporate repository. This makes it easy for developers to find, understand, and reuse services when they need to integrate or adopt business applications and features.
Better still, major business systems from Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL), SAP (NYSE: SAP), Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and other leading vendors are now built with SOA in mind. Its internal working are offered as services using the same open technologies, interfaces, and documentation, making it easy for e-commerce teams to use them seamlessly.
The efficient development cycles delivered by a SOA speed time to market and lower costs. More important, a SOA’s standardized, rationale approach also makes the entire IT system more agile — that is, more reliable, resilient, and adaptable to change. Moreover, nothing could be more important than agility to an electronic marketer today.