members, internal inspectors, and outside auditors. “We were
shuffling paper all around the university to get researchers to
certify the amount of time they spent on each grant,” Evans
says. “It was not an automated process, except for the back end
when the data came out of Oracle Labor Distribution.”
For years, IT understood the value of replacing paper reports
with electronic documents that could travel across an automated
workflow chain. Unfortunately, automation presented the U.Va.
IT staff with two equally impractical choices: install an expensive
third-party application to add specialized capabilities, or write
their own application and create custom interfaces between the
new program and the underlying Oracle applications.
The custom-interface choice would be costly to implement
initially and would drain time and money whenever staff made
changes to any of the software components. “The interfaces
are just a bunch of code that’s hardwired together into brittle
systems,” says Amy Andrews, director of functional architecture for Oracle Fusion Applications. “When you are faced with
change, sometimes just the thought of revising your application
systems is too much to bear, so you get stuck. Thanks to SOA,
you don’t have to get stuck.”
SOA “GLUES” THE OLD AND NEW
SOA’s strength lies in its ability to deliver immediate and
ongoing business benefits. It creates a flexible layer between
individual business applications that breaks the old and rigid
interfaces so individual programs can easily communicate and
exchange data with each other. The right SOA tools can change
business processes within a single system or cross technical
boundaries to span multiple systems, even if the applications
were created by different vendors. “That’s a huge benefit from
using a SOA suite that’s based on open standards,” Andrews says.
The tools in Oracle SOA Suite revealed to U.Va.’s IT staff
how the Effort Reporting System could be modernized without
incurring steep customization costs. “SOA made it possible
for us to easily ‘glue’ the complex workflows to the underlying
Oracle applications,” U.Va.’s Evans says.
Implemented in only four months, the new online component
helped U.Va. staff avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in
modernization costs and created a more efficient solution for
effort reporting. The new application U.Va. wrote replaces
thousands of sheets of paper printed each year with an
online reporting and approval system. Oracle SOA Suite sits
between the new module and Oracle Labor Distribution and
automatically routes reports for review and sign-offs using the
suite’s industry-standard BPEL workflow engine.
The Oracle SOA Suite solution has achieved two other
important goals. First, it stays within the Oracle product family,
something Evans and her staff wanted to do to take advantage
of the inherent compatibilities across all Oracle technologies. Second, designers of the new module wanted it to be so
simple to use that staff members wouldn’t need special training. “Thanks to Oracle SOA Suite, we could build whatever we
wanted on the front end,” Evans says.
The first phase of modernizing the Effort Reporting System
addressed the lion’s share of the project’s original goals by providing automation for the most significant group of users: the
faculty. It cost approximately US$300,000—far less than either
of the non-SOA alternatives. Part of that investment included
the services of EMS Consulting-Intelligent Chaos (EMS-IC),
a systems integrator and a 2010 Oracle Fusion Middleware
Innovation Award winner.
U.Va. officials partnered with EMS-IC because the firm
specializes in SOA integrations with enterprise applications. It
also has a successful track record in IT projects for higher education. In addition, EMS-IC showed a commitment to U.Va.,
At a fundamental level, business agil- ity comes down to quickly changing
business processes or incorporating
new business functionality whenever
new opportunities or challenges arise.
How does this happen in today’s most
progressive IT environments?
Coexistence is one answer. A key
component of the Oracle Fusion
Applications strategy, coexistence
allows IT organizations to adopt new
applications modules over time and add
new capabilities to their foundation of
existing software investments.
This modular, building-block
approach is possible because Oracle
Fusion Applications are built using
architecture (SOA) technology designed
to ease integration between software
platforms. Standards-based SOA means
that organizations can adopt Oracle
Fusion Applications modules and make
them interoperate with their current sys-
tems without having to undergo costly
upgrades and code rewriting.