Service-based approach could spur application modernization

Federal managers will explore use of SOA and Application Modernization at one-day event

Will a service-based approach to application modernization lead to the development of more efficient IT systems that really address the needs of federal agencies?

Federal IT managers interested in adopting service-based practices agencywide will explore how service-oriented architecture can be applied to application modernization at the 10th SOA for E-Government Conference being held Sept. 16 at Mitre headquarters in McLean, Va. The one-day event is hosted by the Federal SOA Community of Practice and Mitre.

Most federal managers realize they have to adopt a more business-driven, evolutionary approach to application and system development, but progress is being hindered by their portfolio of older legacy systems, said David Mayo, president of Everware-CBDI and co-chairman of the Federal SOA Community of Practice.

Legacy systems still account for a large portion of agencies’ IT budgets and, for the most part, are hard to modify and integrate with newer systems, Mayo said. Mayo will give a presentation titled “SOA-based Approach to Application Modernization,” which is the theme of the conference.

Dan Pelman, senior IT manager with the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic organization, and Anne Drissel, chief business architect for the Homeland Security Department’s US-VISIT program, are also scheduled to speak.


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SOA is a flexible set of design principles used during the phases of systems development and integration in computing. A deployed SOA-based architecture should provide a loosely integrated suite of services that can be used within multiple business domains.

SOA has not always lived up to its promise, Mayo said. However, the industry is past the stage of vendor-driven SOA in which vendors pushed SOA integration technology that in many cases did not meet the needs of organizations, Mayo said.

Agency IT managers should adopt a more capability-driven rather than application-driven approach to portfolio management because capabilities such as user authentication might be embedded in 10 different applications, he added.

A portfolio manager will need to know what capabilities are currently in systems, their relationship with other applications and what needs to be consolidated.

For instance, positive identification of users logging onto systems is usually done differently across different applications. Security is typically built onto an application. It would be more efficient to have a user authentication system that worked across all applications, Mayo said.

Mayo described a scenario in which an agency might want to move from a password-protected system to some type of biometric system such as fingerprint identification.

IT managers would need to break down everything within an application to the fundamental capabilities. Enterprise architecture would be important here because it would be the mechanism to map out a path to the target architecture.

The project should be broken up into three- to six-month intervals in which constant change is made. The project managers might start off with 10 applications, then during the next stage they might have reduce the number to four applications using password protection and then move down to one. The final stage would be the move to a software component based on biometrics.

“The approach then is to take a look at all the capabilities and how they will be mapped out over time,” Mayo said, so managers move into a constant technology refresh paradigm instead of situations in which they are ripping and tearing out the legacy systems.

“Most agencies feel the pain but haven’t found a path out of the forest,” Mayo said. A convergence of a number of disciplines with service-oriented application modernization as the umbrella are now making a service-based approach more viable, he said.

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