IBM’s Vertical Approach to SOA

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With the launch of something it calls the Retail Integration Framework (RIF), IBM this week gave prospective customers and its competitors a preview of what it has in store for SOA-enablement (define) in the coming year.

RIF isn’t a product but rather an enterprise software architecture, or framework, designed to help fill in the gaps between packaged software applications and legacy systems to help speed the implementation of new customer-focused strategies and technology initiatives in an SOA environment.

This particular platform, unveiled Wednesday, happens to focus on the retail vertical. But expect IBM to serve up a steady diet of industry-specific and even process-specific announcements through the rest of this year.

“This is kind of the direction we’re heading,” Tom Rosamilia, general manager of IBM’s application and integration middleware group, said in an interview with “RIF is one of a string of announcements where you’ll see more customization work by industry. We’re taking SOA into the industry space to help speed the time to deployment. That’s what it’s all about.”

RIF is based on open standards and features retail-specific components, templates and patterns geared to improve the integration of business processes such as new product rollouts, cross-channel or selling, point of sale (POS) integration, store-to-enterprise integration and retailing business intelligence. It’s based on open standards that integrate with IBM’s WebSphere middleware.

Because most large retailers are opting for packaged applications from the likes of Microsoft, Oracle and SAP rather than building their own proprietary and more customized systems, there’s a greater opportunity to leverage fragmented applications and processes and reuse them again and again across the enterprise.

For example, if one application in the marketing department can get to customer or inventory data in one part of the organization and quickly share it with the sales team in another division of the company without having to buy or write another application, a company can start getting some tangible return on its SOA investment. But connecting the two departments and, typically, disparate software systems in a smooth fashion without disrupting the day-to-day operations remains a bit tricky.

RIF is vendor agnostic, is supported by IBM’s extensive ISV (define) community and provides a governance structure that allows customers to integrate future implementations down the road.

“It’s heterogeneous,” Rosamilia said. “You don’t have to go with one application or middleware provider. Put me in where you need me.”

RIF is an extension of IBM’s Store Integration Framework. It taps into IBM’s WebSphere, Tivoli, Rational and Information Management applications and compliments the portfolio it added when it purchased Webify in August 2006.

“When you view SOA with a business process focus, you’re really talking about the model of your business,” Randy Heffner, an analyst at Forrester Research, told “Once you’ve figured it out, you can have so much more of a business transformation and business-level impact. Yes, it’s an application integration process but it’s much more than that. And IBM gets that.”

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