SOAs Hit High Note for Recording Firm

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2004-10-18

SOAs Hit High Note for Recording Firm

Service-oriented architectures may have a hit on their hands.

EMI Group PLC., the recording and label company encompassing divisions such as EMI Records, Capitol Records, Blue Note and Virgin Records, is implementing SOAs as part of its Web strategy to connect artists, managers, business partners, fan sites and direct consumers while reducing costs and seeking new revenue opportunities.

EMI officials said the companys SOA approach will help save money. It is estimated that the first phase of the application architecture project, which started in May, will eliminate about 30 percent of the companys manual data entry on Web sites. During the next two years, EMI expects net cost savings associated with consolidating Web sites from eight hosting facilities to one. In addition, the company expects a corresponding reduction in hosted hardware and administrative costs to keep systems patched and up-to-date.

Historically, each of EMIs labels had a dedicated team of new-media personnel who developed their own applications. Although their work might have replicated work done at sister labels, each label was in its own silo. Plus, each labels new-media team was forced to maintain core content such as artist biographies, discographies and tour information. This approach became increasingly complex and costly, and consolidation became a priority this year for EMIs central IT team to address, said Seth Brady, director of application services, corporate and Web development for EMI Music North America.

"Traditionally, the way EMI has been structured, each label has been responsible for maintaining a Web presence, setting up contractors, doing the site and anything in between," said Brady in Hollywood, Calif. "We ended up with eight different Web vendors and systems, each with a single Web server and single database model. The systems couldnt scale, and some of the vendors were going out of business."

EMIs senior management tasked the companys IT group with bringing "all this stuff into one place," Brady said.

However, to attack the problem, EMI had to approach it from two sides, the infrastructure side and the application side, he said. Addressing the problem from the infrastructure side would not be very difficult, Brady said. Yet, because "each label had homegrown apps, the application side was going to be a challenge," he said.

Brady explained that on the application side, "we needed more than a content management system. We thought we should be tied in to [an SOA]."

To that end, EMI contracted with Avanade Inc., of Seattle, the systems integration and consulting company created by Microsoft Corp. and Accenture Ltd., to help implement its SOA platform.

Avanade got straight to work on implementing the SOA plumbing and creating new Web services.

"Tours was a case in point," Brady said. "We might have three different sites with three different dates for tours. We needed to share things that we didnt control. So for tours we built a generic service called Events that gave information based on the type of event so that all types of events are fulfilled by a specific service."

Brady said EMI can now expose that event service to other sites that the company doesnt control, such as fan sites, and drive consumer traffic back to the artists and other sites. "So if we add e-commerce to the sites, we can do business," he said. In addition, the SOA implementation "enables us to do things like Stage Passes, where you could subscribe to a site for a period of time and be able to get information," he said.

"Wed be able to get information and aggregate it and push it to consumers on their cell phones. Because weve put in this [SOA], these are some of the things we can deliver," Brady said.

One area EMI is testing is the ability to pull artist news into EMIs content, as well as to send tour updates and other information to consumers via cell phones, Brady said. EMI has put into place and is testing the ability to distribute news and other information to 50,000 subscribers, which would not have been possible without an SOA in place, he said.

Avanade leveraged its ACA (Avanade Connected Architecture) for .Net, an application development framework that includes reusable assets, to create the SOA that is helping EMI achieve its business goals, said Tyson Hartman, .Net practice director and technology fellow at Avanade.

"Weve used ACA .Net to help speed SOA development through our services generation framework," Hartman said. "We can generate all the services plumbing, and you can go in as a business application developer and focus on the business logic."

ACA .Net is a suite of architectural tools including services, code, best practices and patterns built on top of the Microsoft .Net Framework to make SOA development easier to implement, Hartman said. The latest version adds the service generation framework and an aspect-oriented architecture, he said.

"The service generation framework does the code generation of the Web services plumbing so you can focus on the business logic," Hartman said.

Next page: How Avanade helped EMI.

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Brady said Avanade helped EMI in three main ways: Web forms; data model design, producing the model with which the company developed its Web services; and delivering the ACA .Net framework for creating the SOA plumbing.

ACA .Net meant "fewer lines of code to write, manage and test," Brady said. "Avanade easily saved us several months. And now that we have ACA .Net and have used it, we have quite a bit of room to grow with it."

Overall, EMI and Avanade have developed 12 services, including news, tours, consumer e-mail capture and artist discography, Brady said.

Industry observers said the time is right for Web services architectures that can grow with a business.

"Enterprises are sick and tired of expensive, inflexible IT," said Jason Bloomberg, an analyst with ZapThink LLC, in Waltham, Mass. "Integration has been soaking up too much of the budget for way too long. SOA provides a more agile, flexible approach to exposing and consuming IT functionality, finally putting the control of IT capabilities into the hands of the business."

According to The Yankee Group 2004 U.S. Enterprise Web Service Survey, a study of 437 enterprises across the United States, senior enterprise buyers within the manufacturing, financial services, health care and wireless sectors are preparing to invest in SOA infrastructure development. The Boston-based research companys study said 75 percent of the government sector already has begun laying the groundwork for SOAs.

ZapThink analyst Ronald Schmelzer said: "What companies are increasingly realizing is that they already have sufficient business logic for running their operations, but its just not wired together in a way that allows them to continuously reuse their investments for ongoing operations. Every time theres a change in the business—a new acquisition, business process, partner, technology, you name it—the company has to go through an expensive and timely process to reconfigure or even reprogram their existing business systems.

"SOAs are catching on because they promise two core benefits: the reuse of existing business logic through abstraction ... in a heterogeneous IT environment and the ability to compose those pieces of logic into new applications without rewriting in a way thats agile enough to respond to change without breaking," Schmelzer said.

In addition, Schmelzer said, "the challenge in SOA is not the technology but rather the people; developers and enterprise architects have yet to really figure out how to build the right services and how to build their infrastructure in the right way to avoid the previous problems of tight coupling and dynamic composability. This is why both a comprehensive SOA run-time infrastructure as well as new methodologies, training, models, governance and even a restructuring of companies IT departments are mandated to make SOA a success."

Brady said the SOA initiative has helped EMI "future-proof our sites against back-end changes we might make." He also said the SOA will enable EMI to cut costs in designing new Web sites.

"Something well be looking at over the next fiscal year, which begins in April, is to have data repurposed to generic XML information," Brady said.

Meanwhile, Brady said Avanade was "a great asset" in EMIs switch to an SOA. "This is a project we couldve done with internal services, but it would have taken us longer," he said.

In terms of savings or return on investment, Brady said Avanades work saved several months of development time and enabled EMI to "retire three or four systems."

"The productivity boost depends on the customer," Avanades Hartman said. "It depends on the customers skill set and what they need."

EMI was "asking us to help them solve a classic enterprise problem around integration and reuse," Hartman said. "SOA makes that easier than its been before. And its easier because of open standards, the Web services standards."

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