The current wave of social networking phenomena seems to spawn a new website or next big thing on a weekly basis. Facebook is hot, MySpace is fading, and Friends Reunited is simply dead. However, the social networking trend has already begun to stray beyond the bounds of keeping up with friends – business is starting to take advantage of the technologies spawned by the social networking revolution. Web 2.0 changes the way businesses interact with customers having economic, communal and technological impacts.

Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is a business-driven IT architectural approach that supports integrating your business as linked, repeatable business tasks, or services. These functions may be provided locally, remotely, or via an external system. SOAs effectively build applications out of existing software services. Using an SOA methodology or mashups (the difference being that mash-ups are always web-based whereas SOA is not) to bring in useful communication and information services could see an online convergence of services like email, news aggregation, account management and so on.

The standardised technology within most business (XML, HTTP, AJAX, REST, RSS) provides almost boundless possibilities for creating business oriented, efficiency-increasing Web 2.0 applications.

Mashups are created by drawing together internal and external information and applications, leveraging them to reach a new level of business competitiveness. The web provides the central nervous system for this new generation of mashed-up, linked applications. By using a standardised computer code, applications can be made to talk to each other, creating innovative new applications and services.

At this early stage for mashups they can be used to save many hours in administration. However, with increased security and development, as well as by leveraging the Web 2.0 phenomenon, mashups could become central to business development.

One way of utilising Web 2.0 mashups is the oft-quoted example of mashing Google Maps with currently existing core systems. The most cited example here is the delivery company mashing up their existing sales tracking system, inventory control system and delivery system with the Google Maps API. Therefore drivers can be given the best routes for delivery, as well as traffic reports, which is bound to boost productivity.

Businesses are using SOA and Web 2.0 to reach new markets and improve efficiency and collaboration. Web 2.0 extends the reach of SOA by making it simple for both business users and less advanced programmers to create or remix their own rich applications and to access services through the web.

Enabling this new Web 2.0 functionality requires increased content and infrastructure flexibility – which is where SOA comes into play. When you combine SOA with Web 2.0, you get two related approaches focusing on connecting people and systems together more easily, making software and data available for reuse via services, and building new value upon the foundation of existing information resources and IT assets.

And this comes back to the heart of SOA itself – the development of new value from pre-existing software. The availability of adequate pre-existing resources means that developing entirely new applications is deemed unnecessary when the base resources are already in place. SOA is a common-sense approach to software development. When combined with Web 2.0 mashups, new applications can quickly, easily be written and implemented, at a lower cost. IT is able to reduce cycle time and time to market – more rapidly address application backlog and serve the business with speed and agility.

Yet there are risks associated with SOA and web 2.0 mashups too. These stem from the fact that SOA is a new initiative and merging it with Web 2.0 is even newer. The fact that it is introducing major changes to the way a company develops its applications contains an inherent risk associated with any such new development methodology. It will take time for IT professionals to adapt to the way SOA applications are developed and maintained, which is completely different from developing and maintaining bespoke applications.

Another risk with SOA is the issue of change control and SOA governance. If an SOA service changes, it could have an impact on a number of applications and therefore have a detrimental effect on a company’s systems, whereas if you change a module within a single application, the impact is much smaller. The upshot of this is that SOA interfaces have to be well defined, documented and tightly controlled from a change point of view, hence a need for strict SOA governance.

Overall, the potential for creating Web 2.0 mashups using SOA far outweighs the risks and potential drawbacks. Both Web 2.0 and SOA are burgeoning industries in themselves and the potential to collaborate between the two could deliver new, high-quality applications in a short space of time. The Google Maps example is only the start – as soon as businesses realise the potential that this field could deliver, the world of application development is their oyster.

Sergey Karas, vice-president of global strategy, Luxoft