Jan Popkin | Another View: Blueprints for collaboration

 

 

Jan Popkin

In his book, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman describes examples of forces that have 'flattened the world' and the multiple forms and tools for collaboration that have been created. In particular, he asserts that collaboration is the new driving force in managing workflows today, resulting in a new paradigm where collaborators agree to 'have your application talk to my application.'

Two trends are driving this collaboration. One is alignment'or the emphasis on improving organizational performance by aligning IT systems more closely with such business goals and strategies as e-government and net-centric operations. The second is integration'or the movement from building standalone systems to integrated system development, where applications no longer stand apart but must function as parts of a larger enterprise environment.

For IT folks in the government, this evolution is not news. Information technology and architecture have been evolving to support collaboration, with the ultimate goals of better service delivery and improved interoperability. This movement toward collaboration requires migration from discrete IT systems into an environment based on machine-to-machine communications that leverage the power of intranets or the Internet using Web services.

But creating a collaborative environment is a huge challenge for agencies. Many are looking at the commercial world for answers and, toward this end, are evaluating service-oriented architecture as one solution.

SOA works as a software architecture integration platform that supports coupling parts of software applications into a service layer, thus creating a composite application. In simple terms, a composite application may take information from some systems and deliver information to others, those using pieces of applications to create a new or composite application made up of a series of services.

SOA offers many benefits. First, it saves both the time and money necessary to build a new application; it simply repurposes what is already available. By enabling many applications to work together, agencies can easily reconfigure workflows over time to address changing regulations or new operating realities. Agility is a primary benefit; it is much easier to rework a spider web of services than to create a new application.

But SOA should be approached as a technology that enables architecture instead of just another new technology to move data. Agencies should watch for pitfalls, such as building applications that fail to provide for future opportunities offered by machine-to-machine or browserless communications. They should avoid arbitrarily selecting services that could expose internal data unnecessarily and instead evaluate services in the context of a technology issue and a security issue.

Many agencies are recognizing that their existing enterprise architecture programs can provide the intellectual component to make SOA and collaboration a reality. Enterprise architecture, with its road map showing relationships among the processes, data and IT infrastructures, provides a platform for implementing SOA with the ability to accommodate change instead of using new technology to do things the same old way.

Enterprise architecture offers organizations the flexibility to assemble and analyze applications in the context of processes and examine relationships, and do it at a higher level of complexity. Thus it gives agencies the tools to understand how SOA supports e-government, net-centric operations and cross-agency information sharing. Agencies that leave out the middle step of architecture will miss the value proposition offered by SOA'the agility offered in adapting to future change. Smart agencies recognize that enterprise architecture is the intellectual component that enables new ways of thinking and delivering the accompanying benefits.

Jan Popkin is chief strategist for Telelogic AB with U.S. headquaqrters in Irvine, Calif.He can be reached by e-mail at jan.popkin@telelogic.com.

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