SOA Goes to School: Part II

Part one of this article took a look at Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), a technology that can help administrators streamline their infrastructure, improve operational efficiencies, and connect disparate IT systems (see Why SOA? below). If you’re interested in implementing SOA in your school, here are some best practices for getting started.

Buy with SOA in mind.
Implementing SOA means that any core IT products in your district should natively support Web Services, SOAP, XML, and HTTP messaging. Even if you have no immediate desire to employ a full Service-Oriented Architecture, plan for a future where you might: Ask potential vendors whether they support SOA and Web Services before making any major technology purchase.

Analyze processes.
Perform a thorough analysis of your business processes. If you can’t do this throughout your entire organization, begin with a manageable domain in which you can pilot an SOA, involving only a subset of your staff, such as facilities maintenance or senior administration. Your "services" are your building blocks, and it's important to segment your processes in order to simplify your architecture as much as possible.

Make use of existing technologies.
A typical SOA will make use of a wide range of existing technologies as well as complementary ones like SSL/HTTPS for encrypting sensitive data. Keep in mind that your SOA should not lock you into any one platform, technology, or vendor—it should be capable of handling the full range of technology choices, now and in the future.

Take a test run.
If you have in-house developers, give them a chance to experiment with Web Services, SOAP, and the other components of an SOA. Pick a non–mission-critical project involving data exchange between two different IT systems—for example, your facilities management system and conference room reservation system—and use it as a pilot to explore the early steps of implementing an SOA.

Keep your eye on the ball.
An SOA should make things simpler, not more complicated. Each step of the way, ask yourself the crucial question: "How does this decision make my IT infrastructure simpler and more flexible?"

The bottom line is that approaching the implementation of an SOA in an orderly and forward-thinking fashion will help you reap the benefits of a more flexible, scalable, and robust IT application infrastructure for many years to come.

Richard Hoffman is contributing editor of School CIO.

Why SOA?

SOA’s benefits, in a nutshell.

  • You only have to build one interface to each system, and all other systems that want to access it go through that one interface.
  • By separating your IT functions into independent services, accessed via standard methods and technologies, an SOA keeps your IT architecture flexible and centralizes key functions rather than duplicating effort and code.
  • Decoupling the delivery of services from the underlying hardware and software "future-proofs" your organization against technological changes.
  • Creating a standards-based SOA can help your district avoid becoming completely locked into any one vendor or set of vendors.