SOA, Empowerment and Continuous Improvement


Rick Beers is Senior Director of Product Management for Oracle Fusion Middleware. Prior to joining Oracle, Rick held a variety of executive operational positions at Corning, Inc. and Bausch & Lomb.

With a professional background that includes senior management positions in manufacturing, supply chain and information technology, Rick brings a unique set of experiences to cover the impact that technology can have on business models, processes and organizations. Rick will be hosting the IT Leader Editorial on a regular basis.

I met my twin at Open World. We share backgrounds, experiences and even names.

I hosted an invitation-only AppAdvantage Leadership Forum with an overcapacity - 85 participants: 55 customers, 15 from the Oracle AppAdvantage team and 15 Partners. It was a lively, open and positive discussion of pace layered architectures and Oracle’s AppAdvantage approach to a unified view of Applications and Middleware. Rick Hassman from Pella was one of the customer panelists and during the pre event prep, Rick and I shared backgrounds and found that we had both been plant managers and led ERP deployments prior to leading IT itself. During the panel conversation I explored this with him, discussing the unique perspectives that this provides to CIO’s. He then hit on a point that I wasn’t able to fully appreciate until a week later.

First though, some background. The week after the Forum, one of the participants emailed me with the following thoughts: “I am 150% behind this concept……but we are struggling with the concept of web services and the potential use of the Oracle Service Bus technology let alone moving into using the full SOA/BPM/BAM software to extend our JD Edwards application to both integrate and support business processes”. After thinking a bit I responded this way:

While I certainly appreciate the degree of change and effort involved, perhaps I could offer the following:

  • One of the underlying principles behind Oracle AppAdvantage is that more often than not, the choice between changing a business process and invasively customizing ERP represents a Hobson's Choice: neither is acceptable. In this case the third option, moving the process out of ERP, is the only acceptable one.
  • Providing this choice typically requires end to end, real time interoperability across applications and/or services.
  • This real time interoperability, to be sustainable over time requires a service oriented architecture. There's just no way around this.
  • SOA adaptation is admittedly tough at the beginning. New skills, new technology and new headaches. But, like any radically new technology, it has a learning curve that drives cost down rather dramatically over time.
  • Tough choices to be sure, but not entirely different than we face with every major technology cycle.

Good points of course, but I felt that something was missing. The points were convincing, perhaps even a bit insightful, but they didn’t get at the heart of what Oracle AppAdvantage is focused upon: how the optimization of technology, applications, processes and relationships can change the very way that organizations operate. And then I thought back to the panel discussion with Rick Hassman at Oracle OpenWorld.

Rick stressed that Continuous Improvement is a fundamental business strategy at Pella. I remember Continuous Improvement well as I suspect does everyone who was in American manufacturing during the 80’s. Pioneered by W. Edwards Deming in Japan (and still known alternatively as Kaizen), Continuous Improvement sets in place the business culture that we must not become complacent with success and resistant to the ongoing need for change. Many believe that this single handedly drove the renaissance in American manufacturing through the last two decades, which had become complacent during the 70’s and early 80’s. But what exactly does this have to do with SOA? It was Rick’s next point.

He drew the connection that moving those business processes that need to continually change over time out of ERP and into edge applications and services enables continuous improvement by empowering people to continually strive for better ways of doing things rather than be being bound by workflows that cannot change.

A compelling connection: that SOA, and the overall Oracle AppAdvantage framework of which it is an integral part, can empower people towards continuous improvement in business processes and as a result drive business leadership and business excellence. What better a case for technology innovation?

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