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SOA technology enabling next-generation defence

Posted 7 August 2013 · Add Comment

Richard Rogers, delivery director, IFS Defence, takes a look at how the use of Service-Orientated Architecture (SOA) can enable defence support systems to provide an agile and responsive military.

In defence today, agility and responsiveness are key to mission success – and not just for troops, but for the support organisations that help form the wider capability. Soldiers on the front line will struggle to deliver without the necessary processes and technologies designed to support them – from the supply chain that ensures the right vehicle is at the right camp at the right time, to the aviation manufacturer developing the next piece of essential kit.

Aerospace & Defence (A&D) organisations – from the navy, army and air forces to supporting service providers, aviation shops and original equipment manufacturers – all need to respond quickly and effectively to whatever situation in which they find themselves. Agility, adaptability and minimal impact are key. Technology will be key to achieving competitive and military advantage, and increasing efficiency – whether out in the field or back at a supplier factory.

However, overly complex technology and rigid solutions can just as easily create pitfalls such as costly and lengthy solution implementation, vendor lock-in, risk of obsolescence, maintenance issues and escalating costs. And in the still sluggish global economic climate, defence decision-makers are looking to optimise what can often be costly strategic processes such as service and asset management, manufacturing, supply chain and projects, while avoiding these pitfalls.

Why is architecture critical?
In light of this evolving landscape, using a 'grow as you go' approach gives organisations the ability to tackle the urgent requirements quickly as they arise, without needing to implement a broader solution than is necessary, but still providing the opportunity to evolve to a full enterprise solution over time as the operation or business matures and develops. Service Orientated Architecture (SOA) essentially provides an application architecture made up of loosely coupled 'services'. An SOA approach to modern ERP systems offers adaptability for today's fast-paced and mobile defence landscape.

SOA essentially provides an application architecture made up of loosely coupled 'services'.

So how does this work? Let's take, for example, the various software features that are used in creating and processing an order. Most business software applications can, of course, create customer orders. But for a business application that is made up of services, SOA allows the processes that create customer orders to be easily connected to invoke the processes that actually create and manage the order. The loosely coupled nature of SOA services also – importantly - means it is relatively easy to substitute the components that implement each step in the process. This process tends to be very rigid in non-SOA applications, and it is because of this rigidity that SOA is becoming more popular.

In this way, such modular component-based architectures provide organisations with a cost-effective and quick to deliver ERP option that continues to generate returns throughout its life-cycle and enables a 'pick & mix' and 'grow as you go' approach.

Why is SOA critical in delivering applications for the A&D market?
Unlike traditional monolithic and rigid ERP solutions, modular, component-based solutions built with SOA architectures allow users to quickly and cost effectively add new functionality by using ‘pick & mix’ modules to enhance and extend their existing solution infrastructure. A&D organisations can add new solutions that are key to their success as they evolve in markets or as military operations adapt, such as the addition of Export Compliance, support to Performance-Based Logistics or the added capabilities of a mobile solution – all with low risk, significantly reduced business disruption and entirely cost managed.

Additionally, a layered modular product can make it possible to separate infrastructure software dependencies – whether Microsoft, Oracle or others – from the business capabilities they provide, thereby future-proofing investments by ensuring that the product tracks evolving technology developments without needing to re-develop the business functionality each time.

Key benefits of SOA architecture for A&D
Through the use of a SOA approach, especially when combined with a component based architecture, organisations can deliver sustainable business value with increased agility and cost effectiveness for operations, in line with changing business needs.

Below, I have outlined the five key benefits of deploying such technology:

1. Fast delivery – just add the required capability
SOA enables an organisation to add a capability quickly and easily. For example, it is possible to add to an existing enterprise resource planning system additional capabilities which focus on key business needs such as measuring sustainability and ensuring compliance for example, or managing Export Control demands – depending on the business.

2. Low Total Cost of Ownership
Instead of deploying and paying an upfront cost for a large monolithic, often partially redundant solution, it's possible to purchase incremental capabilities with ERP solutions based on SOA architecture as and when required, meaning that costs are reduced, not just for licenses, but also for ongoing maintenance. SOA with component architecture enables the building and deployment of applications on a very modular level, completed very quickly, and organisations only pay for and deploy whichever capabilities they require at that point in time.

3. Secure Solutions
SOA with component architecture uses a layered, multi-tier approach to capability delivery, with each of the tiers having its own job to do. The fully normalised data storage tier is configured so that no data can be accessed or modified except through the business logic, guaranteeing data integrity and preventing 'back-door' modification which can destroy the integrity of critical business data.

SOA technology can also be used to provide exceptional security for deploying mobile applications for use by maintainers on the move. All vital business data captured by the mobile workforce is validated through the SOA layer prior to being stored securely in the main enterprise application, just as if the user had been working in a more controlled office environment. Good use of data encryption on the device and across the communication channels can enable a secure end-to-end solution to be provided, appropriate for the A&D market.

4. Significantly reduced disruption to business operations
It is widely recognised today, with the advancements made in technology and IT development, that the hardest part of implementing a business critical information system is not the technical solution, rather the setting of the solution to work within the business. Key to success is having the correct engagement by the various solution stakeholders, which often places additional pressure on the business as individuals try and juggle understanding how the new solution will be used to best effect whilst continuing to deliver in their “day job”. Limiting the scope of an implementation to purely the key capabilities required will naturally have less impact upon the extent of the business disruption.

SOA has the additional advantage for minimising disruption in that it is able to integrate with a wide variety of existing applications in the enterprise which, whilst at some stage in the future might require replacement, will serve adequately for the time being. SOA supports the ability to integrate simply to non-SOA legacy solutions and therefore can help defer business impacts until a future, more convenient time.

5. Route to continual update of technology
Within an SOA approach, application solutions are delivered from business components, which in turn are built from thousands of smaller software components that implement the functional aspects of the application. Each component has a well-defined purpose and interface that describes what the component does, but not how it does it.

Separating these two elements – how things are done and what they do – allows the technology components to remain aligned with the latest technological developments from the likes of Microsoft and Oracle, without the need to re-implement all of the business components which make up one business application.

As a result, this allows significant change and evolution, meaning that the latest technology can be brought to market much more quickly. In addition, other components may be added later to add functionality, without disrupting components already in place, thereby resulting in a stable operating system that can evolve in an orderly way without the 'big-bang' approach required by non-component based, monolithic systems.

SOA in action
We are seeing a variety of different organisations utilising this technology, including navy, army and air force users, as well as commercial aviation shops and service operators. An SOA approach provides agility, flexibility and future-proofed investment to help these organisations to deliver the capabilities required in defence today, and into the future.

SOA is enabling evolution rather than revolution – providing A&D organisations with the agility they need.

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