Municipalities are primarily looking for off-the-shelf products, but their specialty vendors are slower to adapt to new technology such as SOA. Nevertheless, Wiseman says, he sees significant changes afoot in the future. "SOA drives the software development industry more than it drives us."
Larger municipalities such as Calgary and Edmonton, which have SOA projects under way, have more money and influence, and can attract vendors who will customize their wares or undertake software development projects themselves. But smaller municipalities don't have the same clout or resources, he says.
SOA is starting to trickle down to the municipal level. "Over the next year, we'll start seeing it referenced as a regular feature in RFPs for off-the-shelf and custom solutions," says Wiseman. But most vendors aren't ready to respond at present. "We're shooting ourselves in the foot if we make it a mandatory requirement now, as none of the providers are at that point."
Once it gains traction, Wiseman believes SOA will play a powerful role in sewing together the individual geographic information systems (GIS) across municipalities. Searching for GIS-based information across a province or region would become quick, simple queries instead of labor-intensive exercises.
"If you look at Peel or Ontario, there is really only one geography," he says. "All of us have one subset of information about that region, be it street networks, gas and electricity lines or land parcels. We can build apps to pull that in from different sources, but we all need to do that in a standardized way. Building one-to-many interfaces is where there's real complexity."
Simplifying interaction between organizations is where SOA has the greatest value, says Wiseman. "We can all build one-to-one interfaces internally, but when you get into inter-jurisdictional dealings, then you need a common language."
SOA can provide that Esperanto. But due to all the hype, some believe SOA is just another technology fad. While Wiseman doesn't believe SOA is revolutionary, he does believe it's here to stay. "It's the evolution of the same idea that's been around for years: object-oriented programming, CORBA and so on, which are all about fitting together software components so they interoperate." SOA will likely continue to evolve, perhaps into something with a new name, but the fundamental approach to unifying systems will remain the same, he says.
Rosie Lombardi is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org