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SOA Is Not Dead, Just Misunderstood

In her recent blog, Anne Thomas Manes announced "SOA Is Dead-Long Live Services". She alleges that SOA has been killed by the economic depression because enterprises cannot afford major investments in IT transformation. She envisions web-based information services to be the survivors. The disillusionment with SOA is a result of misunderstanding perpetrated by software vendors anxious to leverage an industry trend for quick sales. Those who believe SOA is dead will be the real casualties.

SOA is a business architecture enabled by technology-it is not simply an application of web services technology. The OASIS SOA Reference Model is based on access to business capabilities across organizational boundaries. It is about relationships between organizations. It also is the basis for synergy between business and IT. The Internet and related technologies enable easy access to such capabilities independent of the particular technology used to implement the operation of the service.

According to a related article, "SOA Gets an Obituary" in Yahoo.Tech:

Interviewed Monday afternoon, Manes said successful SOA implementations have resulted from major IT transformation efforts rather than just slapping a bunch of interfaces on applications. ‘Those companies have seen spectacular results from these efforts, but in those circumstances, SOA was part of something much bigger,' Manes said.

Upon closer examination, I am sure the major transformations referenced above were really business transformations supported by technology. The real benefits of SOA come from improvements in the operation and agility of the business.

Technically, the key here is to establish a standard infrastructure in which services can be easily accessed and shared, and to establish standard message formats and data definitions by which service providers and service consumers can interact. IT should focus on enabling business by supporting the implementation and integration of business services.

From a business perspective, the key is to identify sharable capabilities and provide well-defined interfaces by which they can be shared and used in multiple business contexts.  So, for example, the same billing operation (computer application and associated business activities) can be used by multiple lines of business. However, the transformation goes beyond just putting a façade on an old billing system, because the old billing system is most likely designed for a particular line of business-its functionality may need to be generalized. Furthermore, the billing operation no longer belongs to one of the lines of business; it belongs to the enterprise. Business savings will result from economies of scale in the billing operation, not just the elimination of redundant billing applications.

The consolidation of key capabilities is where a transformation to SOA starts. Such solutions as the shared billing system are the low-hanging fruit. Outsourcing of commodity services can provide other low-investment, high-ROI opportunities. You don't need to rush out, buy a lot of software and transform your IT infrastructure.

In the long term, SOA provides not only economies of scale, but agility. Our SOA Maturity Model (EDS an HP Company) defines a progression toward agility. It addresses both technical and business changes that must occur over a long journey. At the end of the journey, the agile enterprise embraces SOA so that sharable capabilities are made accessible as services. These capabilities include not only capabilities for delivery of customer products and services, but also capabilities that support operation of the enterprise such as accounting and human resource management services.

These capabilities (the shared business units) become building blocks for future business endeavors. Instead of creating a new organizational silo to address a new line of business, existing capabilities are incorporated into a new value chain, and only missing capabilities must be developed and integrated. The enterprise can adapt to challenges and opportunities much more quickly. Improvements to existing capabilities will have less pervasive effects because the affected functionality is more likely consolidated in fewer and smaller organizational units.

Far from being wiped out by the bad economy, SOA will enable smart enterprises to achieve economies of scale in the short term and agility in the long term. The SOA Maturity Model provides guidance for short-term ROI and continued improvement as the enterprise progresses to higher levels of maturity and agility. Those who abandon SOA will become competitively disadvantaged.

For more on SOA for business, the agile enterprise, and the SOA Maturity Model, see my book, Building the Agile Enterprise with SOA, BPM and MBM.

Comments
Anonymous | ‎01-07-2009 11:35 PM

While I totally agree with the positive imperatives of SOA you mentioned, I also agree with Anne's mention of inhibitors to SOA. Because, I have had a chance to experience both the perspectives in the recent past.

For the simple reason being that, SOA is not just a technical problem to be solved. True SOA will transform the business and the Org. structure. And That's not easy!.

Since everybody finds it tough, the question of competitive disadvantage wouldn't arise, atleast in near term.

Checkout my blog post which details on this issue as well as Anne's earlier observation.

architectsoul.blogspot.com/.../what-is-common-between-soa-and-bi.html

Anonymous | ‎01-09-2009 08:47 AM

Bala,

I think we agree that SOA is a business transformation challenge that will take years for realization of the full value.  A major technology investment for a ROI years in the future will not be tolerated. That is why the maturity model is so important.  

Top management must realize business value in the near term while applying SOA principles to implementation of individual, shared services.  The economies of scale should support investment in these difficult economic times, and should demonstrate the potential for transformation on a broader scale.

These economies of scale may or may not yield competitive advantage in the near term.  But it is important that top management realize that transformation is of strategic importance and will take many years.  If they wait to see their peers succeed, it will likely be too late.

Anonymous | ‎01-09-2009 09:52 AM

Now I am a bit confused by your statement: 'SOA is not just a technical problem to be solved'. I can understand why someone would say SaaS is not a technical problem, but SOA is quite a bit more low level and hand crafted -- at least today.

I have to agree that the perspective/context changes are always the hardest to make. Organizational changes are quite a bit easier that's why when a corporation runs into a really hard problem -- they reorganize. :-)

Anonymous | ‎01-10-2009 07:43 AM

Charlie,

SOA is about the packaging and integration of business capabilities.  If it were just technology, then access to services across organizational boundaries would not be an issue.  The business potential is much greater than the application of new technology or the composition of applications, its about consolidation of business capabilities and the ability to reconfigure those capabilities as building blocks to address new business challenges and opportunities.

It's the initiatives that focus on technology transformation that are the casualties of the economic crisis.

Anonymous | ‎01-12-2009 08:45 PM

Charlie - Yes, SOA is hand-crafted as of today. And its a real technical bottleneck that inhibits the aspirants from implementing it.

From Business perspective, as Fred mentions, its about consolidation of business capabilities and provisioning the same across the org. business units. Now this is the interesting perspective. The question comes 'Who owns those capabilities and What'. This question changes the power equation within the IT org. unit and thats what I referred as Org. changes and subsequent cultural changes are not easy to achieve. Atleast, there is no magic bullet to achieve this. This needs to be led as a change management initiative.

And many companies are finding it tough to make this change synchronous across various stakeholder groups and say 'Why dont we just continue what we have been doing so far'.

Nevertheless, I dont deny the fact that, if implemented rightly, SOA can be the biggest competitive advantage.

Anonymous | ‎01-13-2009 07:14 AM

Bala,

I see SOA not only changing the power equation within IT, but in the enterprise, generally.  Ultimately, the transformation must be led by top management or it will fail.

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