Three Takes: SOA Is Happening -- Time To Get On Board

Learn how to get the most out of a service-oriented architecture strategy.

Stephanie Stahl, Contributor

February 23, 2007

3 Min Read

Close your eyes. Relax. And let's daydream a bit. Imagine a product that would make your business more agile, reduce risk, make it possible to serve your customers better, and let you reuse valuable IT assets. Sounds like nirvana, right?

That's the promise of service-oriented architectures, which give companies the ability to turn large, monolithic, inflexible applications into hundreds, even thousands of small, flexible apps that can be shared among employees and with outside suppliers and partners.

Despite how easy vendors make it all sound, you can't pull SOA out of a box and reap the benefits the next day. Finding the right balance between what your business needs from a software architecture and what your IT department can deliver is a huge challenge. About a quarter of the 273 respondents to a recent InformationWeek Research survey say their SOA and Web services projects fell short of expectations. Of those, 55% say SOA introduced more complexity into their IT environments, and 41% say it cost more than expected. Out of all respondents using SOA and Web services, a mere 7% say the results exceeded expectations. Now that's a wake-up call!

SOA "requires a thoughtful business architecture ... and many people in IT don't know what the business looks like," says James McGovern, chief security architect at financial services company The Hartford. More important, you need to know where you're headed, he says, adding that "SOA needs to focus on people, then process, and then tools--in that order."

Pre-SOA, Hartford had a silo approach to its architecture, with no consistency in how it developed software, McGovern says. "Nowadays, we not only develop software in a more consistent fashion, but we also have lots of capabilities in terms of exposing our software and services to people outside of the organization, which makes it easier to do business with us."

McGovern's ahead of the game. But other business technology executives are still gun-shy, and not necessarily because they don't understand business needs. It's because they're loath to create a more complex environment.

There's huge resistance among CIOs, especially those who've invested in monolithic ERP applications, says Bruce Richardson, chief research officer at AMR Research. "They finally feel like they have their architecture under control and they've standardized on this single set of software," Richardson says, "and now with Web services and SOA, it has the potential to get back to a total best-of-breed solution," which adds complexity back into the mix.

"These guys are ready to strangle their ERP vendors for even dreaming up Fusion or Enterprise SOA," he says.

So, it seems, one executive's dream technology is another's nightmare. But based on the results that some companies are having and the pace at which the vendor community is moving, it's time for a reality check. As Rob Preston, editor in chief of InformationWeek, says, "SOA, despite the expense, despite the work involved, despite the fact that it is all new, is going to happen. The industry is moving in this direction, the biggest IT organizations are moving in this direction, everyone's going to have to get on board."

Stephanie Stahl,
Executive Editor, Industry
[email protected]

To find out more about Stephanie Stahl, please visit her page.

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