Monday, March 1, 2010

Getting down to business with SOA

This week, I stumbled onto an article in CIO, written by Randy Heffner, VP at Forrester Research. In his article, Randy covers two points that really piqued my interest. The first was with regards the adoption rate of SOA, and the second point was aimed at what CIO’s really need to know about SOA.

While the hype around technologies such as Cloud computing is at a high according to Gartner, SOA has been quietly maturing, resulting in a sound adoption rate (68% adoption by end 2010 according to Forrester), and delivering sufficient business value to warrant 52% of organisations using SOA to expand its use. While my views are not empirical like Forrester’s, the conversations I am having with organisations has shifted from “what is SOA?” and “is it voodoo?” discussions; to “what are the actual steps we need to follow to facilitate the IT transformation we need to go through” and “how do we govern our architecture to ensure maximum service reusability”. I believe that a contributing factor behind this shift in discussion, and an increase in maturity, is that many COTS applications today are service enabled. These pools of available services have allowed IT practitioners to change the way they do application integration, and now they are at the point of asking how to expand and control their SOA initiative. As this is traditionally an IT driven initiative, the drive is towards new development approaches and potentially service reuse. I agree with Randy in that service reuse is only part of the picture and the true power of adopting a SOA approach is not being realised.

So what is the other half of the coin that is missing? I would call it strategic business thinking. Randy eloquently stated that CIO’s need to understand that SOA is about having the capability of designing software (business services) around the business capabilities required by their business. These business services utilise the value of existing applications yet hide the complexity of the underlying architectures. The end result is a business that has the capability of rapidly assembling business capabilities to address their transforming business. Hence the mantra of SOA bringing agility and flexibility to a business. If I played “bingo” on the word “business” in this paragraph I would be a rich person! But that is what it is about. CIO’s need to understand the business strategy, the business transformation strategy and the business capabilities that will be required in the future. By combining a business and reuse approach, the value of a business service will be determined not only by its technical level of reuse, but the value it delivers to the business capability requirements.

So, we IT practitioners should not be asking ourselves the question “how do we make SOA successful?” SOA will deliver value to your business when it is utilised as an architectural approach to develop business capability. If that message gets diluted in any way, you will end up with a costly, moving part in your architecture that does not live up to its full potential.

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