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Sam Lowe's blog on Enterprise IT

Saturday, July 08, 2006

More on the Real Challenges in SOA

I posted around this time last year on this blog about the real issues making and breaking SOA initiatives, and how they are under-served. It was great to see it amplified by James McGovern, but I didn't follow up at the time. Thinking it was about time I did, I have been doing some surfing to see what the current state out there is. Maybe I've been looking in the wrong places but I have to say I havn't come across a great deal that would be of practical assistance to organisations in assessing and planning SOA initiatives.

Of course many on the web (probably best exemplified by the guys at OASIS) have done great work in starting to define the technology-types and architectural patterns involved in SOA, but what about other factors key to organisations realising the benefits that SOA promises?

I'm talking about factors like how SOA affects capabilities and organisational models needed, governance approaches and charging models, mandate & business engagement, migration & transisition methods, workplace infrastructure and methodologies, relationships to current technology portfolio and programme management techniques etc etc etc (this list could go on and on) ?

And in addition to all these 'do-ability' factors, are those to do with how you assess and plan the value of SOA in the first place. For example, how you identify where SOA can add the most value and where it adds the least, because it certainly doesn't add equal value everywhere, and do you really want to be investing your SOA resources in an area which doesn't deliver benefit - maybe where it proves the opposite infact? In my experience getting an answer to this kind of question is necessary to do a decent opportunity assessment, and getting a decent business case put forward.

I don't know about you but it somethimes scares me a little when I think about how, despite the fact that it's now five years since the first time I explicitly used SOA in a large-scale architecture (albeit under the rather ungainly name 'Process-based Service Model'), there still isn't nearly enough practitioner, manager, or business-level content available to people that doesn't have some software-sales spin inherent in it, or isn't about the technology?

I did come across quite an interesting (if very short and dareisay incomplete) post from Carl-Henrik Wolf Lund, which I hadn't come across before. And of course, Brenda Michelson has just convened 'BDA Community Project #1' on a closely related topic (as suggested by MarkG). So there's positive signs that a dialogue might be starting amongst blogging practitioners.

But, if these subjects are key to being able to execute on the concepts that most of the IT industry is holding aloft, why don't you hear about it more than very occasionally in the software vendor SOA hype ? Unfortunately, it is not related to selling their technology. At least not directly related. To be fair to them, I've had conversations with most of the large enterprise application & technology platform vendors on this topic over the past twelve months, and they're all interested in collaborating on these subjects, acknowledging the shortcomings of the view they're able to provide, but are honest that it's just not a competency of theirs, and therefore not going to be part of their core education or marketing strategies.

But many in the SOA crowd (and not just the vendors) need to broaden their sights from viewing SOA, or even Enterprise IT as technology. It may be stating the obvious but Enterprise IT is a business service itself after all, who's toolkit just happens to consist of technology. IT strategy gets a bad rap from many in the operational and delivery technology communities, but you can't solve the thorny SOA execution issues through technology, or through implementations alone. The operating model, governance, skills and culture of the IT department are just as important (actually more), as are IT's relationship with and attitude to the various business units.

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