SOA Déjà Vu All Over Again
Insurance Experts' Forum, August 29, 2013
Yogi Berra was famous for his Yogi-isms. One of my favorites is “It's like déjà vu all over again.”
SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) reminds me of this quote.
SOA “sprang” on the scenes arguably, in the early 2000s and has evolved over the years. Now we’re been hearing that SOA is passé and Cloud or SaaS (Software as a Service) are the current, modern solutions. For those that believe this, you are missing the boat and focused on marketing terms instead of the underlying paradigm.
Each SOA stage over the years has just been an evolution of abstraction.
In the beginning was the single monolithic program. Carriers had no choice but to select a best of breed AND integrated suite solution (even though these terms weren’t used back then). It was all or nothing. IT started to realize some of the issues with unstructured programming techniques and “goto-less” programming was born: the actual birth of SOA.
This was the first attempt at abstracting out small, reusable programming components. This led to object oriented programming techniques to create a higher level of abstraction within the programs to allow greater re-use of modules and structures, but it was an IT-focused advancement.
The Next Evolution of Abstraction
Then came the ability to create client-server solutions – the first step in separating out parts of the overall solution between the UI (user interface) and the backend program, leveraging internet and networking standards. It was also the first attempt at creating more user-friendly UIs, moving away from the mainframe green screens.
This led to the next big jump to three tier and later N-tier applications – the separation of presentation (UI), application and data management solutions. This was followed by the MVC (Model-View-Controller) architecture. Vendors were now able to offer solutions that were broken down into these three (or more) layers and carriers were able to start to select “best of breed” solutions and figure out how to best integrate them.
CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture) was the first attempt at addressing the integration nightmares associated with piecing these disparate solutions together. This integration pain caused carriers to again focus on integrated suite solutions, which meant most were looking at the major vendors who were able to provide more of their business needs with respect to technology.
And then …
With the advent of the term “SOA”, came web service interface standards (WS-*) and REST, enabling different vendor “services” or programs to more easily (emphasis on “more”, not easy) integrate their “services” or programs together. The bigger impact was vendor solutions, as they leveraged SOA principles in their architecture and implementations, which enabled carriers to again focus on best of breed solutions. Vendor programs became more configurable and easier (again, focus on “easier” not easy) to integrate with other vendor programs. While the standards and implementations were IT-based, the service/program definitions were becoming more business focused and defined.
But the cycle was just beginning again.
With the financial crisis in the late 2000s, carriers started rationalizing the number of vendors with which they had to deal. They were looking for better ROI by giving a vendor more business and looking for better partnerships. While the carriers wanted vendors to provide SOA-based, snappable component solutions, they were looking for the “one throat to choke” or “one back to pat”. They wanted to focus more on the business issues than IT issues. This lead to Cloud-based and out-sourcing options for carriers. Carriers wanted to focus on the business functionality and put the burden of IT on the vendors, to which the vendors were eager to oblige.
And then …
Then SaaS solutions started to emerge. Business users could actually start purchasing these types of solutions without IT involvement at all! This of course had a backlash when the business wanted to integrate data from these SaaS solutions with their IT-supported solutions, but it paved the way for carriers to seriously start considering subscribing to vendor’s business services. It saved them the IT infrastructure and resource costs and provided them a more cost-effective business model as they only paid for what they used. Upgrades were no longer the carrier’s problem, but the SaaS vendor’s problem. The pendulum had swung again – carriers were selecting best of breed solutions and integrating the data and process flow internally.
Are we done finally with this continuous cycle of abstraction and swinging back and forth between best of breed solutions and integrated solutions? I don’t think so. The game though has moved from IT to the business, but the SOA evolution continues.
Vendors’ SOA-based solutions will continue to be refined to lower levels of granularity. Industry-specific orchestration solutions will become available that will allow carriers to subscribe not to large core systems, such as policy or claims, but to lower level business functions, such as quote, issue, underwriting, rating, billing, etc. Carriers will be able to actual subscribe to multiple vendor business functions – turning them on or off as they best meet their business needs and objectives. Carriers will move to being totally focused on the business and business processes and not the underlying technology or infrastructure. This will be the next evolution of abstraction – business oriented architecture (BOA).
To paraphrase Yogi, "It's SOA all over again" with a business veneer. What are you doing to prepare for it?
Ben Moreland is senior business architect for Innovation Group. He can be reached for further comment or information via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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