A Clear SOA Win: Cisco Uses SOA to Connect with Partners

Loraine Lawson

The SOA Consortium and CIO magazine recently announced the winner of the SOA Case Study Competition and, once again, reading the case study, I'm struck by how well SOA works to extend your business services to partners.


The winner is Cisco Systems, with special recognition given to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, BlueStar Energy and FINRA.


You would think Cisco, of all companies, would excel at connecting with business partners, but in point of fact, dealing with partners was a major headache for the hardware, services and software company, which had more than 400 diverse applications it supported. This extensive legacy infrastructure created pricing and ordering inconsistencies.


What's more, while customers could start orders online, most orders still required hands-on intervention with a Cisco employee. Plus, customers had to use multiple online applications.


Needless to say, this was a big business problem, especially since most of Cisco's revenue actually comes through partner channels.


As part of a larger project called Commerce Transformation, the Cisco SOA effort focused on Partner Deal Registration application. As it stood, most of the business services-pricing, configuration, etc. - resided behind Cisco's firewall. The goal: to service-enable these functions and make them available to business partners, who could then integrate these services into their own systems-without manual integration work by Cisco.


It doesn't take an MBA to see how that could help speed orders along.


The results are undeniably impressive. The deal cycle time was reduced by 50 percent. The company estimates it's saved 18,000 man hours of productivity and an estimated $12.7 million through improvements in discounting trends and reduction in non-standard pricing since the rollout in Sept. 2007.


Six months after the project rolled out, the system had more than 9,000 partner users worldwide and had processed 37,000 deals worth $1.2 billion. Nearly a year after rollout, there were close to 20,000 partner users, and 56,000 deals worth $3.92 billion net had been processed.


EbizQ's Brenda Michelson shared the juicy details of Cisco's SOA initiative, including its cross-functional team approach to governance and lessons the company learned from its pilot project. There's even a look at how SOA helped Cisco and its partners interact with a SaaS provider - Salesforce.com. It's definitely worth a read.


But as I said, my takeaway on Cisco's experience is that, yet again, we see how useful SOA can be at extending your business functions and services to external partners. It seems clear to me that this is a situation where SOA can pay off in big ways - dare I say it might even be the "killer use case" for SOA? It's a lesson I first learned from VetSource, which had a very similar situation where it needed to create online storefronts for resell partners. By using a service-oriented architecture, VetSource was able to speed up how quickly it brought new partners online.


The Cisco case study also bears out what David Linthicum called the traits of companies who succeed with SOA:

  • A focus strategy, rather than technology
  • Starting with small, tactical projects
  • Interest coming from the top-CTOs, CIOs and CEOs-although Cisco does credit a great deal of its success to "grassroots-level adoption"


For more case studies on SOA success, check out "The Three Best Examples of Successful SOAs."


Now that SOA's matured, it'd be interesting to compile a list of business cases or scenarios that are sure bets for SOA. I'd love to hear your opinions.

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