Service-oriented architecture, or SOA, is a hot topic in business today. You may have read about service-oriented architectures and be wondering how they can affect your business as well as how they can be of use to you. By looking at it from both a real-world perspective as well as a technical perspective, you will forge a solid understanding of service-oriented architecture from which you can jump off to implementing this technology within your business.Defining Service-Oriented ArchitecturesEssentially, a service is the implementation of some step in one or more business processes, and a service-oriented architecture takes advantage of those services. More importantly, service-oriented architectures have many benefits for businesses, including enabling better alignment of business requirements and technology. Service-oriented architectures also allow services to be easily swapped out or reused for different purposes. And a service-oriented architecture gives your business the ability to leverage existing services easily while also leaving the option to write new services to fulfill specific purposes.Service-oriented architectures rely heavily on programming in XML, a text-based mark up language that enables developers to define their own specific structure of data. However, one major benefit of setting up a service-oriented architecture is that it doesn’t matter which language or protocol is used. Instead, the process can be written to be able to be used across many platforms.One simple example of service-oriented architecture would be a program that installed on a computer that can organize a user’s digital music library. The program may work best if it has access to the Internet and can utilize a service – looking up the name of a CD or song title in a large music database, for example, or giving access to an online store that uses the same database in a different manner. Service-oriented architectures are essentially about giving existing services new functionality.How Service-Oriented Architectures Can Benefit a BusinessWhen used by businesses, service-oriented architectures can make it possible for the establishment of, for example, a complete online registration process. This process could include a way to send the registrant an email with specific directions to the facility without requiring the person to go to a third-party website for that information. Instead, a program could be written to pull the information directly from the registration application, reference the third-party website, and seamlessly integrate the response into the confirmation email.The same could hold true for weather information – the program could give the user information about the weather based on both the user’s zip code and the zip code for the location of the training. This would enable the business to offer a value-added service in its emails – the weather information would be provided directly, rather than from a third-party site that the end user would have to access independently, and would be personalized. Other items involved in the service-oriented architecture could include scheduling, registration, and credit card processing.Services could also allow different ways to access a single database. Using a real-world example of service-oriented architecture, a company could make its database of books and music available to outside users as a service, and the users could choose to create processes that pull particular information out of that database. For example, someone could create a process that allows visitors to a website to search an artist name within that larger database, and the results returned would only encompass information relating to compact discs, rather than to book titles that also mentioned the name.Taking an example of service-oriented architecture from the business world, a database of courses could be utilized as a service to give different individuals access to different aspects of the database in different manners. Trainers, for example, could be given access to a thick client application that enables them to search a complete database, including courses that are not made available to the public. The public, on the other hand, could be given access to a web-based application through which it could search for courses falling on particular dates or covering particular topics. And sales people could be given even a different way to access that database to find out not only when courses are available but in which locations, leading to weather information and driving directions. All of this could be accomplished seamlessly using service-oriented architectures, without needing to create multiple databases for multiple users.Making Adjustments More Easily with Service-Oriented ArchitecturesOne difference between a service-oriented architecture and a more traditional development mode is that service-oriented architectures allow a company to hand over a more focused set of requirements to its IT team. In addition, while the full establishment of a service-oriented architecture can take an extended period of time, an individual service can be built in a few weeks. This means that there is room for easier adjustments to be made on a service and time for mistakes to be caught earlier in the process, which can further benefit a business.ConclusionEssentially, a service-oriented architecture can be a huge benefit for any company that uses Web-based applications. It can provide new functionality for programs written on outdated platforms and it can save developers time in not needing to write new processes when useful ones already are in existence. While service-oriented architectures may be the hot topic of the moment, it seems clear that they will continue to be an important part of business for many years to come.