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SOA's Second Act: Dynamic Documents Top the Agenda

Organizations are Now Beginning to Take a Closer Look at the Role of Unstructured Assets as Part of SOA

While SOA has traditionally had something of a data obsession. While the focus has been on service-enablement of structured and transactional data and processes, documents and document-centric processes have been conspicuously absent from the SOA agenda. With structured data in order, organizations are now beginning to take a closer look at the role of unstructured assets as part of SOA. 

The domains of documents and data have long been two worlds divided. Data is stored in relational databases, mainframe systems, and data warehouses. Documents are kept in content management systems, shared file servers, and local drives. Structured data is empirical. It focuses on the “what” of a business — financial information, inventory, etc. Documents are contextual. They typically focus on the “why” and the “how” — manuals, policies, reports, analysis, etc.

The reality is that business is done at the intersection of “what,” “why” and “how” — where fact meets context. Many organizations now recognize this artificial separation and are seeking ways to unify these two worlds — and looking to SOA as the bridge.

We’ve often heard the statistic about unstructured data: It represents more than 80% of the information in an organization. So why has SOA focused primarily on the other 20%?

In part, because structured data often represents the most critical assets of a business — the data driving the high volume, high value transactional processes that run a business. But it’s also because structured data is well formed and well defined. Documents and other unstructured data is just harder to access and control in a scalable way. XML is changing that, providing rich definition and structure for content that used to be reserved only for the data sitting between columns and rows in a database.

SOA’s next act must accommodate documents, making them not only a key information source, but also a new application context. Documents contain key information that must be accessible across the enterprise. But looking at documents simply as a target source is missing half the story. Documents provide the persistence and rich context many business applications count on — persistence and context that is completely lost in a traditional portal-style “on-the-glass” user experience.

In SOA’s next act, we’ll see documents emerging as the application, supporting the notion of “dynamic documents” — where dynamic data and an interactive user experience migrate from the glass to within the document itself. We’ll see the document become the new application context, bringing SOA into the previously static world of documents.

More Stories By Jake Sorofman

Jake Sorofman is chief marketing officer of rPath, an innovator in system automation software for physical, virtual and cloud environments. Contact Jake at [email protected]

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