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SOA helps with flatter supply chains

One of the benefits of SOA that I keep banging on about is visibility, and I read a great article recently that showed how this can benefit companies that are transforming their supply chains.

I thought it worth adding some background to the high-level claim that SOA really helps with flatter supply chains.

To recap, in traditional IT architectures, applications and programs execute a range of business functions 'under the covers', making it hard to see what is happening to individual process steps.

The problem is that the IT assets are deployed on IT-oriented boundaries (programs) rather than business-related ones (business operations).

In SOA, IT components are arranged into business services that correspond to distinct business operations or steps.

IT monitoring and management tools can see when different IT steps are called and executed, but in the traditional example this information is really only relevant to the IT department itself.

It means little to a business analyst. However, in SOA this same information actually represents calling and executing business steps, giving a greatly improved level of business visibility.

The referenced article discusses the problem facing many companies as they face the need to transform supply chains.

The argument posed is that whereas in the past manufacturing has been located close to the customer, with just-in-time supply to minimize inventory levels, globalization is increasingly breaking this model and creating long, complex, flatter supply chains that cross country borders and have to deal with varying levels of regulation and management along the way.

Optimizing these flatter chains requires a clearer visibility of what is happening where, throughout the extended business process. Collaboration is important too.

As a result, companies are turning to SOA to help with these problems. It provides a level of standardization, making it easier to get all parties collaborating, and most importantly it offers the improved business visibility that is required.

As a purely academic postscript, my eyes were really opened wide by a new spin on supply chain management that had never occurred to me.

The article points out the challenges of having to work the supply chain 'in reverse' - that is, what to do when a customer sends the goods back! Ouch!