Service-oriented architecture (SOA) is having a noticeable impact when it is implemented, according to a new report from Aberdeen Group.

SOA refers to a design model or architecture that can help businesses integrate applications more efficiently and update them without extensive recoding. The services are essentially modular programs that carry out particular tasks, such as checking a customer’s credit history. They can be reused because they are commonly built using standard interfaces, such as XML.

The Aberdeen report SOA Middleware Takes the Lead: Picking Up Where Web Services Leaves Off, states that where IT organisations that made the investment in SOA infrastructure such as ESBs (Enterprise Service Bus), repositories, and registries, are significantly outperforming companies that develop only web services, resulting in lower application lifecycle costs, better throughput for projects, and higher levels of user satisfaction. Earlier this year, SOA was ready to move from the testing phase into production.

The Aberdeen report is based on a survey of more than 400 organisations over the past 18 months. In the study, "best-in-class" companies were found to be twice as likely to have deployed SOA middleware as those that use only web services.

Indeed, companies deploying full SOA applications reported a 89 percent improvement in end-user satisfaction, versus 15 percent of those using a mix of SOA and web services. It was also discovered that 100 percent of respondents saw a reduction in application development costs, while 72 percent saw a reduction in their application maintenance costs.

This is interesting, especially as prior Aberdeen research implied an even split between SOA infrastructure and web services strategies. The surveyed "best in class" organisations saw SOA applications as a way to improve service to end-users (61 percent) and improve the agility of the IT department (60 percent).

An impressive 71 percent are using SOA to simplify or standardise their development infrastructure, while 76 percent have already deployed one or more ESBs. Approximately 61 percent were actively retraining their application development team.

Aberdeen believes that despite the perceived complexity of full-blown SOA infrastructures, there are real cost-savings available for those willing to invest both the time and budget. The analyst group advises users to simplify and standardise, stating that effort spent in rationalizing existing processes and applications, and decomposing them into components and services, will be rewarded by increased agility and reduced development costs.

"IT organisations that are succeeding have realised that enterprise-level infrastructure investments are necessary," said Perry Donham, Aberdeen’s director for enterprise applications research and the report’s author. "Groups that are deploying applications in silos, even when those silos are a mix of web services and SOA, are suffering from the lack of an enterprise-wide messaging infrastructure.”

Aberdeen feels that organisations should concentrate on investing in infrastructure, as web services will carry an organisation only so far. It also advises organisations to retrain its development team. "Don’t expect IT to just 'get it' when it comes to SOA," it concludes.