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A policies primer

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The suggestion that the next upgrade of the major applications suites such as Oracle and SAP will force users into adopting systems and business management policies that they may not realise are necessary has met with something of a mixed reception.

Companies that sell the technology required to implement and manage such policies see the arrival of the upgrades as the cause of potential problems for users if the issues are not understood and actions taken as a consequence. The applications vendors, however, do not see users facing many issues at all.

The suggestion is that many companies are likely to find IT operations more complex to manage than anticipated with the next upgrades, mainly because these applications suites will provide IT departments with the power and flexibility of SOA capabilities regardless of whether they are needed or have been specified. In such circumstances, these users will face the corollary of having to understand and implement policies that before now they would have considered unnecessary.

The reasoning is straight forward. Up until now the technologies underpinning the traditional applications suites were not designed with third-party applications integration as a primary goal, so it was only ever attempted if the need was absolute. "It was a bit like pulling teeth to integrate different systems together," said Dan Foody, CTO of the Sonic and Actional division of Progress Software.

By comparison, the next upgrades will make it easy to link together applications from a wide and growing range of vendors, so easy that it will not necessarily even need a developer to do it – a reasonably tech-savvy business user will be able to do it in many cases. "The problem is, they will probably do it inadvertently, without realising they may be exposing their company to risk," Foody said.

This is certainly possible with some of the desktop and server tools available from the likes of Microsoft, such as InfoPath. Here is a tool primarily designed for use within a closed, Microsoft environment. But in an SOA-enabled environment, it could be inadvertently used to build inappropriate links between applications and data. It is also not that unusual for such desktop applications to be in use without being under the specific control of the IT department. Indeed, they might not even know such applications are installed and operational.

However, according to Jeff Stiles of SAP's Palo Alto Laboratories, SAP is giving customers the choice to adopt new functionality and Enterprise SOA at their own pace. "For example," he writes, "customers can (move) to a simple technical upgrade from R/3 to mySAP ERP and leverage the same user interface and capabilities without turning on (or) deploying new ones like role-based work centres, self-service, Duet™, composite applications, Interactive Forms, etc. They are able to incrementally deploy these capabilities and leverage the underlying configuration, security, role definitions, etc".

There is still the suggestion, as made by Willy FitzPatrick of Amberpoint, that there a large number of companies which have never thought in terms of implementing SOA will still face a requirement to implement the same types of management policies that are common currency in enterprises that are consciously moving towards SOA, once they have upgraded. At a base level there are not too many policies to consider, but they are now an important part of the mix for all IT departments planning and management work, even if SOA is still not part of 'the plan'.

According to Foody, the single most important policy to implement is one of visibility. "It will be important for the IT department to have a clear and comprehensive view of what is going on within the enterprise, particularly in terms of what applications and/or services are in use and who has access rights to them."

This must also include the applications and tools that are part of every desktop suite, where individual users often load applications or tools of their own.

This means that IT does need to invest in automated systems that provide the agents needed to locate all applications and services and identify all the users associated with them. This will allow IT to identify unauthorised usage – which with the upgraded applications suites is far more likely to be inadvertent than malicious – as well as gain much tighter control over access in the future.

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