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IT Strategy: TLA – FAQ

Included with this FIP (financial information package) is an
SAS (standalone supplement) on BI (Business Intelligence). On page 16 of the SAS
is an ESM (enterprise software map), which, with any luck, will help you finally
understand what the seemingly endless list of technology TLAs (three letter
acronyms) actually mean. And, more to the point, what they do.

Maybe I’m just a COH (cynical old hack), but it seems as though the business
software industry invents a new TLA with each point release of its software to
try and convince people to spend more money.

In reality, we can hardly blame them – every product needs a sales story. But
the problem occurs when we start to overlook really innovative and promising
technology because it sounds pretty much exactly the same as all the rest. And,
because a lot of NCDs (number crunching directors – that’s you, by the way) have
had their fingers burned by signing off rather large cheques for fancy-sounding
technology in the past.

However, here’s another TLA for you. And this one has the potential to
completely change the way businesses adopt and implement technology in the
future: SOA, or service-oriented architecture.

Of course, one problem with TLAs is that when you finally work out what it is
that the latest one is supposed to do, another one is invented to replace it.
And SOA is perhaps the most difficult yet to get your head around. “Maddeningly
vague,” is how InfoWorld senior editor Oliver Rist described it in a feature he
wrote last year. And he gets paid to understand this stuff.

Perhaps the best approach is to look at SOA as a philosophy rather than a
technology (bear with me here). It has two central objectives. First, to shift
the balance of IT away from the technology to the business need. And second, to
allow companies to reuse functionality that has been created to solve a local
problem throughout the enterprise. Eventually, this recycling of functionality
can be extended throughout vertical sectors and, theoretically, throughout the
business world leading to savings of truly epic proportions.

The Organisation for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (or
OASIS – sometimes I think they come up with the acronym first and then invent
the name to fit around it) has this to say about SOA: “The central focus of SOA
is the task or business function – getting something done”, which must be music
to non-technical ears.

Unfortunately, that gem is to be found within a 28-page reference model,
published this February, which is designed to help people understand how it will
go about doing that.

To be fair to OASIS it does try: “The main drivers for SOA-based
architectures are to facilitate the manageable growth of large scale enterprise
systems, to facilitate internet-scale provisioning and use of services and to
reduce costs in organisation-to-organisation cooperation.”

Talking to Phil Lee, finance director of Britannia Building Society, earlier
this year, conversation got onto the company’s recent acquisition of Bristol
& West. Lee is still working on the data integration issues following the
merger nine months after the acquisition. “Not the least bit compatible,” is how
he described the two building societies’ systems.

In theory, if the acquisition had taken place in a couple of decade’s time,
and had SOA been ubiquitous throughout both organisations, the data integration
process would have been seamless, taken a fraction of the time and saved a

And there lies the philosophy behind SOA – that technology should not be seen
as an end in its own right, but as a means to reach a business goal. The only
way to do that is for all techies to design their systems around a formula that
will allow them to interact. OASIS uses an electric utility as an example of the
philosophy behind SOA. The utility provides the electricity, but anyone can use
that electricity if they have the right ‘interface’ (that’s a plug to you and

I wouldn’t hold your breath on this one just yet. So far, it has had the
technology analysts very excited (which is not particularly difficult as they
seem to get excited getting out of bed in the morning). There are some early
adopters using the technology and some long-time users (Standard Life
implemented a programme as long ago as 2000). And the usual suspects are
sniffing around for their slice of the action. Oracle, SAP, IBM, Siebel, BEA
Systems and Sybase have all launched SOA-based programmes over the past couple
of years.

But it’s certainly worth thinking about and maybe even popping your head
around the CIO’s door for a chat. Because of all the TLAs currently in
circulation, SOA really does have the potential to redefine how technology is
utilised. It will put the power of technology back into the hands of business
managers and at the same time lead to significant cost savings. And who wouldn’t
want a slice of that?

Perhaps you should retire to the BRS (beer refuelling station) to think about

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