Jeff Simpson | Another View: The Federal SOA Watershed

Do you have what you want or do you want what you have?



Jeff Simpson

The federal government finds itself at a watershed. The old practices of procurement to satisfy government requirements are being squeezed by a strong need for agility, visibility of information and our ever-decreasing ability to pay to 'reinvent the wheel.' There is an old saying: 'It's not a question of do you have what you want, but do you want what you have.'

When it comes to looking at how to create new systems and processes to handle new requirements, government agencies won't be asking how to build or buy something new. Instead, they'll be asking what exists now that can be reused and shared among programs to get the best value for government dollars spent. And the time for this is now, not five or 10 years from now; so we'd better learn to want what we have.

With world events being what they are, federal budgets and organizations are under enormous pressure not only to do more with less, but to share what they have so that their systems, organizations and people get the greatest value. Service-oriented architectures and service infrastructure software enable the federal government to take critical steps toward sharing information and processes among agencies. But federal agencies need to think about those SOA technologies and practices on three levels: organizationally, politically and technologically.

There has been much hype about SOA in the last few years. However, the thing to understand about SOA technology is that it represents a significant leap in the maturity of distributed systems. Sharing resources is the foundation of a sound SOA strategy. These shared resources should be available to users with as little effort as possible. Organizations should expose their shared systems via completely standards-driven interfaces; systems should not require specialized software or hardware to be purchased by those wishing to use that shared service.

The most important software category of SOA software, strategically, is SOA infrastructure software such as Enterprise Service Bus, Service Enablement Platforms and Data Service Platforms. The reason infrastructure software is so important to consider is that it provides a technology platform to enable proactive sharing of services, while mitigating many of the risks and issues that have killed other distributed systems or data/service-sharing efforts.

Strategic SOA presents some significant challenges to the organization of any federal agency. Most significantly, shared services represent a completely new way of doing business. Instead of a 'need to know doctrine,' where agencies do not share information unless there is a specific need from some specific other agency, the doctrine now is better characterized as 'need to share.' Agencies need to begin proactively sharing data that is or may be useful to other agencies. The organizational preparation required for an agency to accomplish this reversal of doctrine should not be underestimated.

That preparation begins with selecting the most appropriate SOA infrastructure software, but even more vital to this transition is partnering with a system integrator that offers extensive consulting practices and covers many organizational areas such as cost, budgeting, governance and business strategy.

The politics of SOA will most likely be quite simple. Government agencies shall share data proactively and actively encourage other organizations to utilize the shared services of others to the greatest extent possible, or face budget cuts and poor performance reviews. The technology is there and is ready to be utilized today to get maximum value from the federal government's existing assets.

The 'need to share' doctrine can be realized, and the momentum toward a shared-services infrastructure across the government is growing and doesn't look like it's going to stop anytime soon.

Jeff Simpson is the chief integration architect for BEA Systems' government practice.


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