Why SOA?

I’ve been meaning to post an entry on this for some time now. Back in early February, Joe McKendrick had a post entitled “A CTO underwhelmed by SOA.” I recently had a conversation with a CIO (not specifically on SOA) who lamented that we’re still solving the same old problems. A google search on “trough of disillusionment” and “SOA” yields about 12,000 hits. So why are we doing SOA?

If you’ve seen my bio at a conference, or looked at my “About Me” page here, you’ll know that I’ve always been interested in human computer interaction and usability. Why? It’s because I’ve always felt that the user interface can be a differentiator. While that was probably more the case in the early 90’s during my graduate school days, I do think that it still holds true today. So how did I make the switch to being such an advocate of SOA? Largely, it was for very similar reasons. I looked at SOA and felt that if done properly, it could be a differentiator to the bottom line. While you could argue that the Web did the same thing, that whole craze was far more about using Java and J2EE than about changing the business. The best thing about SOA is that the discussion has been dominated by SOA and not by underlying technologies.

So how can SOA be a differentiator? Well, here’s a recent case study that was published. Yes, it’s a classic problem of getting that single view of the customer in the hands of the people that need it most. What’s great about this case study it clearly shows the difference between the monolithic application world (they had to have the Data Warehouse operators generate an Excel-based extract) to the world of SOA (the applications they use pulled it from the data warehouse directly via services). Break down those application walls, and start viewing things in a bigger picture. While the hype is going down, there are still plenty of opportunities available. Keep in mind, however, that the business strategy should be the driver of where your SOA efforts are focused. Kudos to the person at Helzberg that recognized that they needed to make customer information available at any store. That was the business need, and it gave them an excellent opportunity to leverage SOA appropriately.

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