More Than Links
Just a few years ago, Web services were used mainly for integrating computer systems based on technologies from different IT vendors. That's still the case, to an extent: 84% of survey respondents say they use service-oriented architectures to integrate Windows systems, and more than half say they use the technology to link systems that run Unix.
But interest is growing fastest in using SOA technology to adhere to industry standards for how business processes are completed in the face of increased and changing regulations. People don't do SOA because it provides better app integration, says Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst at consulting company ZapThink. "SOA is about continuous change."
And the market for SOA is growing quickly: WinterGreen Research predicts it will grow from $630 million this year to $18.4 billion by 2012. Some 64% of companies using SOA expect their spending on it to increase this year compared with last, according to the InformationWeek survey. HP's Schoenrock says SOA projects carry an average price tag of $300,000 to $2 million. Yet more than half of companies using SOA say they aren't measuring the ROI on their projects.
To be sure, service-oriented architectures are complicated. Web services try to link data from complex computer systems, and there are few prepackaged products--implementing an SOA is mostly a custom job. It's not unusual early in an adoption cycle for new technology to be more complicated and expensive than expected. In the case of SOA, the IT industry is still relatively early in its migration to standardized, reusable software services.
Slow And Steady
Still, nearly half (45%) of survey respondents rate SOA projects as very important to their companies' business goals. The most common reasons for adopting the technology include standardization, automating business processes, cutting operating costs, and increasing customer satisfaction. Among companies using SOA, 72% say they hope to achieve increased application development flexibility, 61% list the ability to more quickly create apps that use Web services as important, and 58% say they want more modular software. But just 26% of respondents say they're pursuing SOA very aggressively. Companies that aren't using the technology cite the absence of IT goals for it and a lack of in-house expertise.
Problems with SOA projects aren't just related to technology. Good management and governance of the projects is also a top concern. Primitive Logic CTO Pete Conner says failed projects often result from lack of strong governance over IT and business objectives, including clearly defined stakeholders and architectural standards. At companies whose SOA projects fall short of expectations, "I would bet some major money they didn't sit down at the table and look at the business side," he says.
Michael Liebow, IBM's VP of Web services and SOA, says companies with savvy executive teams tend to be most effective at governing SOA projects and recommends that customers define their projects' starting points, the state they hope to arrive at, funding levels, who's in charge and who's not, metrics for success, and who gets access to the software that's created.
They're the companies that understand the benefits the complex and challenging technology can offer: faster and more efficient application development, better delivery of services, improved integration and communications with business partners, and, of course, lower costs. They also understand that a new way of developing software with relatively immature tools can take more time than expected and produce disappointing results. Yet, their spending plans make one thing very clear: Despite some initial problems, SOA is here to stay and will play an increasingly important role in the way businesses develop and deploy software and services.