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.