Driving the SOA dream

If you’re looking for the enterprise IT buzz phrase of 2006, look no further than service oriented architecture (SOA). Industry heavyweights are queuing up to heap praise on SOA as they move through the gears and get their enterprise sales teams up to full speed. The only cloud on the SOA horizon — and it is one that is rarely mentioned by vendors — is that the business benefits of SOA only really kick in when organisations have completely embraced the concept.

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By  Stuart Wilson Published  January 12, 2006

|~||~||~|If you’re looking for the enterprise IT buzz phrase of 2006, look no further than service oriented architecture (SOA). Industry heavyweights are queuing up to heap praise on SOA as they move through the gears and get their enterprise sales teams up to full speed. The only cloud on the SOA horizon — and it is one that is rarely mentioned by vendors — is that the business benefits of SOA only really kick in when organisations have completely embraced the concept. What this means in layman’s terms is that organisations starting off down the SOA path are being told that the business benefits will increase as more and more of their IT infrastructure — including application services — are developed within an architecture that supports the overriding goals of SOA. That can be a difficult message for CIOs to deliver internally when the pressure is on to deliver almost immediate business benefits from any incremental IT investments. Analysts at Aberdeen Group now reckon that world’s largest companies could save a staggering US$53 billion in IT spending over the next five years by implementing SOA. William Mougayar, an analyst at the research house, claims that the business benefits of SOA remain largely untapped with only 16% of companies having more than two years of SOA experience. “Companies cannot expect business benefits from SOA before the IT department has been able to assimilate what SOA can do for them,” says Mougayar, VP and Service Director for Aberdeen Group’s CIO’s strategic agenda practice. “The number one cascading effect of SOA’s benefits for IT is the development of new products and capabilities, but this is only possible after full-lifecycle SOA implementations.” “This is a golden opportunity for CIOs to focus on the end result of SOA business benefits rather than become enamoured by the technology itself,” he adds. “A compelling business context is much easier to sell once a well-defined SOA implementation is fully delivered.” For the limited number of companies that have experience in the full cycle of SOA implementations, Aberdeen Group reckons that the benefits can be quantified into three major categories: speed of deployment, easier integration as well as faster customisation and updates. It sounds good but there’s no escaping the fact that these benefits only start to really materialise after a period of sustained investment in SOA from large enterprises. How do you explain this to the board and the people holding the purse strings? It’s like driving a Toyota Corolla and then deciding to replace every single part with Ferrari parts one-by-one over a period of months or even years. During the process the car will look pretty stupid and it is only when every single part has been replaced that you can actually claim that you are driving a Ferrari. Before you even start on this process, you have to be supremely confident that long-term you want to be driving a Ferrari — and also convinced that nothing better will come along in the meantime. The major IT vendors know the challenge that faces them in terms of convincing end users with a perfectly adequate IT infrastructure (a Toyota Corolla if you will) to make the investment that will change it into a supercharged SOA environment (a Ferrari) one step at a time. Have no doubt there are clear long-term business benefits to be had from SOA, but that may not be enough to convince those organisations looking for a much quicker return on investment. Vendors and IT services providers need to make a justifiable case for every single part of the upgrade process that transforms the IT system into a genuine SOA. Let’s not forget that SOA is not as new as many vendors would have us believe. The idea of a software architecture, which defines service use to the requirements of application users, has been around in various guises for some time. You don’t have to cast your mind back too far to remember the hype generated by web services (which remain an integral part of the SOA vision). The whole idea behind SOA revolves around interoperable application services. Loosely coupled together these services can interoperate independent of the platform and programming language that they are built on. Now that sounds like a pretty compelling offering that effectively makes some software components reusable. However, it needs to be articulated in a way that makes sense to each individual client. That means drilling down to the specific business benefits each organisation will receive as opposed to selling an airy-fairy vision When vendors and service providers are pitching hard on the benefits of SOA, you can’t blame CIOs and IT managers for being on their guard (and a little bit wary). It is short-term benefits that sell solutions and it is the ability of vendors to communicate these within the context of a long-term vision and IT architecture roadmap that is the hallmark of a sophisticated sales approach. For Middle East CIOs and IT managers wading through a mountain of SOA-based marketing material from vendors and service providers, the message is simple: make sure you look before you leap. ||**||

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