Three Key SOA Lessons Learned from British Telecom

Loraine Lawson

When it comes to building a service-oriented architecture, British Telecom is a true veteran. The telecommunications company has spent nearly six years writing services for most of its 3,500 applications.


Naturally, the company's work has attracted a lot of press attention, since the BT is wrapping up its SOA at a time when most companies are getting started. And, what's more, the company is happy with the results.


So, when I ran across Charles Babcock's interview with the BT chief architect, George Glass at InformationWeek, I knew it'd be worth my time -- and, more importantly, your time -- to check it out.


Glass offers three major insights into how companies should approach building services:


Stop thinking about products. Software has been too product-oriented. What do you do instead? He suggests you think about building a customer-centric systems. Build generic services for customers: order-entry systems, a billing system, a provisioning system.


Think about reuse first. This may be the most important item from this article, and quite possibly from everything I've read or shared with you. The team quickly learned to ask itself one key question before it built any service:

We took designs and held them up to the light. We asked, if we built it, how much reuse would we get?

As the British say, "Brilliant!" Obvious, you might think, but it strikes me as critical to making sure you don't waste time on too small or too obscure services.


This also includes building your services for the really big deployments -- not the small ones. This will be especially important for those who choose to do bottom-up SOA, starting with small projects and building up to an enterprise-wide implementation. As Babcock puts it, it's easy to build a billing service, but if it can't handle the hundreds of thousands of bills your company needs to send out regularly, well, then, guess who's rewriting a billing service?


Offer your IT division incentives for building services that replace legacy systems. That's Glass' recommendation. I think including incentives is a fantastic idea. I'd go one step further, though. People are accustomed to being rewarded only for creating something new, but every new bit of code adds possibly unneeded complexity. If you want to keep your SOA lean and mean, offer incentives for those who reuse services.


Sandy Carter, the vice president of SOA and Websphere at IBM, told me Big Blue offered incentives when the company switched to a service-oriented architecture. In the past, developers were rewarded for holding patents on code. IBM knew if it wanted SOA to work, it had to encourage service reuse , and it put its money where its mouth was.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 11, 2007 7:11 PM John O' John O'  says:
Hi Lorraine;If someone can definitively define what 'reuse' means - preferably with examples - that would go a long way toward helping promote SOA among other things. Good article - thanks.John O' Reply
Oct 14, 2007 6:41 PM Balakrishna Balakrishna  says:
John has asked a very good question. How much of reusability should be considered as being reused.During the development cycle, if the service is found to be insufficient to reuse, is it good to enhance the service.This kind of situation should not arise if the initial requirement,analysis and design is done carefully. Still, often in many cases it happens. So, if someone can explain the service development life cycle, it will be of great help to all. Reply
Oct 21, 2007 4:14 PM Pravin Gupta Pravin Gupta  says:
Designing future services for further reusability and resuing existing legacy code as services are two most important success factors to achieve a realistic SOA with a measurable goals and ROI. I am aware of many organizations who have have misunderstood SOA and tried to develop brand new "Web Services". After spending a good amount of time and money, there was a sertious disconnect between business and IT. BT's case study is certainly an excellent example of co-creation by IT and business. I am keen to understand more on SOA governance that George put in place. It might be equally interesting to understand how BT monitored reusability of their services. Reply
Aug 22, 2010 3:26 PM Lean SOA Lean SOA  says:

good insightful post.

the incentive idea is unique.

Jan 28, 2016 5:36 AM Agastya Mathur Agastya Mathur  says:
Thanks for this post. I find your opinion quite interesting & really enjoy your point of view about telecommunications products & networking products. Reply

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