by Mikko Salonen and Jyrki Haajanen
Virtual Organizations (VOs) are collaborative groups that can be formed in several ways, and for several reasons. Typically they are logical entities, have a limited lifetime, are geographically dispersed, and are created to solve a specific problem or to enhance and develop business processes. Information networks play a significant role in the interaction of VOs, and their importance is expected to grow even further. Service-oriented architecture (SOA) is an architectural approach based on the service-oriented computing (SOC) paradigm. Since SOA encompasses architecture issues in both business and information systems, it has great potential to enable alignment of VO approaches with IT-based business networking approaches, such as enterprise interoperability. So while SOA can contribute to VOs, VOs can also make their own demands on and contributions to the adaptation of the new architecture.
This research is part of a project named SOAMeS (Service-Oriented Architecture in Multichannel e-Services), at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. The project, which commenced in mid-2006 and will last until the end of 2007, is running in collaboration with the University of Helsinki. The main funding bodies are Tekes (the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation) and VTT, while four Finnish companies also provide funds and are involved in its execution. The project aims to clarify the potential of service-oriented solutions in business network management and strategic planning. Furthermore, the project explores the usability of existing SOA tools for multi-channel service composition, and elaborates those tools by enhancing collaboration modelling with dynamic and non-functional aspects. The aim of the VO research is to study what SOA can offer to VOs, and to identify the challenges it may confront, the demands VOs will set for SOA, and the contribution that the VO approach can provide to other SOA-enabled business networking approaches.
Business environments are becoming more and more dynamic, and information systems need to keep up with this pace. New architectures must be able to adjust to and even enhance the ongoing change and development of business environments and organizations. It is important that the service-oriented architect involved in development understands the issues, demands and requirements " both technical and business-related " from both sides.
Virtual organizations need tools for, among other things, preparatory specification, consortium formation, support and finalization. Different actors, for instance, may have different operating systems, data formats and languages. A standard or architecture must therefore be adopted that can integrate systems and embrace requisite services. Innovation, different communication types, data sharing, decision making and other synchronous and asynchronous collaboration and sharing methods are necessary for virtual organizations. Tools must support the processes and in doing so help improve interaction within VOs. Dynamic operation requires that ICT solutions are flexible and agile, and can enable changes in relationships within and between virtual organizations.
Given the organization-specific requirements listed above, SOA seems to be the natural choice for solving the problems resulting from organization-specific information systems and business processes. SOA provides a natural isolating layer between the business requirements and their implementation, while still allowing their direct linkage in implementation. Full utilization of SOA principles with nested services results in a more economical reuse-oriented environment, where a single business process can be expressed as a service consisting of subservices. These subservices (eg customer information updates) can be reused, thereby improving data and system integrity, focus of development costs and architectural control.
The main challenge in applying SOA is, however, of a psychological kind. SOA is more a management philosophy or discipline than a plain information system architecture, and thus should be applied in a determined way. Managers should not expect massive returns immediately, but should be prepared to wait for a sufficient period of time for them. This does not mean, of course, that applying SOA will not bring immediate results, but rather that over a short time they are typically exaggerated.
The aim of this research is to find the link between SOA and VOs, to discover how SOA can be used in VOs, and also to identify whether VOs can contribute something new to SOA. How can they be combined so that the best possible result will be achieved, especially from the point of view of the organization's management and strategic development? The role of virtual organization is growing and SOA may enable its better use and collaboration.
VTT, Technical Research Centre of Finland
VTT, Technical Research Centre of Finland