Executive SOA Value: Real-Time Data Access

Sep 21, 2009
Shawn Simon

Does your integration solution provide value or cause problems? This question obviously presumes your business has some type of solution to integration, and it does. Every system of information technologies from stand-alone applications to document management to enterprise provisioning must solve the connectivity problem. This may be simple emails, multiple database interfaces, full blown EAI or just person-to-person interaction — the concept is the same: you must be able to communicate data. So does your implementation of integration solve the problems facing your business? How about problems other than purely connectivity? Or is integration another hurdle stopping you from the next enhancement or even worse, costing your business dollars due to poorly designed interactions?

To help answer these questions I will present four areas of value mature enterprise integration should promote. In this thread I want to focus on the first. It's what I believe is the one of the most significant challenges facing your enterprise IT landscape today: Real Time Data Access. Sometimes mistaken for just connectivity, together with R/T DA it becomes the life blood of integration. You see just because you can call an API, read from a database or parse a file (all connectivity problems) does not mean you can understand the data. It's like getting on a conference call where everyone speaks different languages. Is then the conference call even valuable?

You may argue you can pick up some things in inflection like attitude or seriousness, or maybe even jot down words to translate later, but no way can you really get out of that meeting what you would if they were speaking in a model you understood. Your ability to react real-time to the conversation is removed: ask questions, comment or even take it in a direction most interesting to you. For SOA it is no different. R/T DA grants you both instant access and the understanding to engage in the conversation and get the most from your IT communications.

The integration message for Executive Management is about driving business functionality by enabling real time data access. Here are six attractive topics that will resonate with both management and business users alike.

Data Connectivity

Although I purposely intended to diminish the value of "just connectivity", it is joined at the hip with R/T DA. With SOA today, we embraced the vast sea of interface options allowing your business to grow with little concern about application framework, technology stack or legacy abstraction. This should now be fundamental and universal. Whether it is a Mainframe or JBI, IT organizations should stop treating connectivity like its some untamed wild beast. Embrace the heterogeneous environments and let true business decisions drive application selections not fear of missing core competencies. The most basic value-add on SOA is to enable software functionality not possible without it.

Data Purity

Now that you can see the data (connect), you can verify and validate the data. The former may be a series of tests ensuring you are looking or transferring the right data and the latter certifying its legal data. Data purity is at the center of interface management, SLA compliance and stability. Being confident in your data as well as now having the choice to cleanse or de-dupe where appropriate can often be considered a major win in and of itself, and rightfully sits in the forefront of SOA ROI.

Data Enrichment

The most concrete value from data access in general is data processing. In today's world of R/T transactions, I favor the term data enrichment putting the emphasis on the data model rather than the business processing. Enrichment primarily describes two types of utility often necessary for the business: Processing Engines and Entity Substantiation. Engines are needed as "black boxes" of logic or computations critical to substantiation. I am the first to advocate that wherever possible externalize functionality into meaningful and flexible business processes or leverage such functionality by consuming other end-system services. However there is a place for exposing internal logic for computations that are more static. I suppose in one sense these can been as fancy more "business visible" transformations like calculating balances, determining dates or shipping rates based on the current data entity. This leads me to entity substantiation, a concept I use to put an emphasis on populating data entities that represent your business not just the transaction. A true CDM will provide business entities available for transactions; in turn they may span multiple end-systems (or systems of records) and therefore require data enrichment to build out or substantiate that model. The precursor to effective Complex Event Processing (CEP) is a valuable complex event - or maybe better stated a "complete event".

R/T Decision Making

Decision-making is useful, and performing it real time to alter the business process path can be "wow"ing. Think of airlines that readily change their rates per seat based on availability, incoming demand, and physical plane capacity. Or campaign management that involves changes promotional discounts based on specifics of the sale. Imagine advanced computations that detect potentially fraudulent transactions by scanning though past history and comparing to current events. These are all pockets of extremely valuable logical processing engines - made possible with rich and pure business entities flowing through your integration layer.

R/T Business Intelligence and Trending

What happens when decision making meets business intelligence? How about forecasting volumes spikes using advanced CEP signifying potential resource limitations? Trending can now become something real-time you can baseline daily or hourly as opposed to the typically longer cycles. This power combined with process automation (to be discussed later) can now help correct or prepare for the business events previously considered unexpected. In short, the more real-time coupled with the more sophisticated you become in analyzing the data and trends important to you, the more accurate your predictability can become.

R/T Reporting and Monitoring

Sure we can do SLA metrics, reconciliation assessments, and KPI summaries today. Now think if we could get those reports on-demand in intervals of minutes, real-time as they are happening. Suddenly those executive dashboards and charts become alive and curiously give off a magnetic aura we are all drawn to. "Oh, so that's what happening! I see it now." Again tie this data into a well-design exception handler (more on this later) and you have the potential for that self-healing infrastructure that can give operation guys a good night sleep. Gone can be the days where the system itself inflicts more pain on the enterprise than the users, allowing its own transactions to bring it to its knees.