Bell Canada started looking at SOA several years ago – before it was on the radar screen of most companies – as a way to transform its business

“We had a lot of independent business units coming together as part of Bell’s consolidation effort,” said Bob Noseworthy, the company’s vice-president of infrastructure and enterprise architecture. “We did a lot of work four years ago putting together a real, broad enterprise architecture strategy.”

This strategy has evolved over time, but the team started by building a handful of services that would have a high probability of reuse across a bigger constituency. “We saw that as a way to learn, get it under our belts, and try to gain some support for that approach,” he said. “We have lots of bruises to show for it.”

SOA requires a big organizational and cultural shift, he said, and there’s a lot of territorial ownership to overcome. “We were doing this at a time when it was still a very new approach, so there was lots of internal selling,” he said. Even today, there’s not a lot of industry or vendor experience in this area, he said.

Over the past year, the team has started to formulate a much more cohesive enterprise-wide strategy by creating a list of reusable services based on its past efforts. There’s also work being done to get buy-in and alignment across a diverse set of delivery units.

“We’re not there, by any stretch of the imagination,” said Noseworthy. There are a number of challenges to deploying an SOA, from the governance framework to delivery of change management, performance management and service level management, as well as capacity planning, he said.

“When you start to have multiple business units, multiple delivery teams, all trying to reuse existing services, those kinds of challenges come to the fore,” he said. “We’ve done it through trial and error, but it’s the school of hard knocks.”

The team started with a call centre application and created a core set of services that could be used not only in its call centres, but also on the Bell.ca site and in its retail stores, which at that point were separate business units. The team is now in the process of building a service registry capability and developing a governance framework.

The governance framework is geared toward developing and evolving these services, as well as managing their evolution. “You have to plan for growth, you have to plan for much broader usage and you really have to have a coordinated cohesive approach around that,” said Noseworthy.

But the team is also taking advantage of Bell’s legacy environment by putting in middleware layers. “We’re like most large enterprises,” he said. “We invested in technology solutions over the years (and) we really wanted to find a way to not throw that out.” SOA can act as a bridge, he said, between these legacy applications and Bell’s next-generation tools.

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