SOA Politics

In the most recent Briefings Direct SOA Insights podcast (transcript here), the panel (Dana Gardner, Steve Garone, Joe McKendrick, Jim Kobielus, and special guest Miko Matsumura) discussed failures, governance, policies, and politics. There were a number of interesting tidbits in this discussion.

First, on the topic of failures, Miko Matsumura of webMethods called out that we may see some “catastrophic failures” in addition to some successes. Perhaps it’s because I don’t believe that there should be a distinct SOA project or program, but I don’t see this happening. I’m not suggesting that SOA efforts can’t failure, rather, if it fails, things will still be business as usual. If anything, that’s what the problem is. Unless you’ve already embraced SOA and don’t realize it, SOA adoption should be challenging the status quo. While I don’t have formal analysis to back it up, I believe that most IT organizations still primarily have application development efforts. This implies the creation of top-to-bottom vertical solutions whose primary concern is not playing well in the broader ecosystem, but rather, getting solutions to their stakeholders. That balance needs to shift to where the needs of the stakeholder of the application are equal to the needs of the enterprise. The pendulum needs to stay in the middle, balancing short term gains and long term benefits. Shifting completely to the long term view of services probably won’t be successful, either. I suppose that it is entirely possible that organizations may throw a lot of money at an SOA effort, treating it as a project, which is prone to spectacular failure. The problem began at the beginning however, when it was made a project to begin with. A project will not create the culture change needed throughout the organization. The effort must influence all projects to be successful in the long term. The biggest risk in this type of an approach, however, is that IT spends a whole bunch of money changing the way they work but they still wind up with the same systems they have today. They may not be seeing reuse of services or improved productivity. My suspicion is that the problem here lies with the IT-business relationship. IT can only go so far on its own. If the business is still defining projects based upon silo-based application thinking, you’re not going to leverage SOA to its fullest potential.

Steve Garone pointed out that two potential causes of these failures are “a difficulty in nailing down requirements for an application, the other is corporate backing for that particular effort going on.” When I apply this to SOA, it’s certainly true that corporate backing can be a problem, since that points the IT centric view I just mentioned. On the requirements side, this is equally important. The requirements are the business strategy. These are what will guide you to the important areas for service creation. If your company is growing through mergers and acquisitions, what services are critical to maximize the benefits associated with that activity? Clearly, the more quickly and cost effectively you can integrate the core business functionality of the two organizations, the more benefit you’ll get out of the effort. If your focus is on cost reduction, are their redundant systems that are adding unnecessary costs to the bottom line? Put services in place to allow the
migration to a single source for that functionality.

The later half of the podcast talked about politics and governments, using world governments as a metaphor for the governance mechanisms that go on within an enterprise. This is not a new discussion for me, as this was one of my early blog entries that was reasonably popular. It is important to make your SOA governance processes fit in within your corporate culture and governance processes, provided that the current governance process is effective. If the current processes are ineffective, then clearly a change is in order. If the culture is used to a more decentralized approach to governance and has been successful in meeting the company’s goals based upon that approach, then a decentralized approach may work just fine. Keep in mind, however, that the corporate governance processes may not ripple down to IT. It’s certainly possible to have decentralized corporate governance, but centralized IT governance. The key question to ask is whether the current processes are working or not. If they are, it’s simply a matter of adding the necessary policies for SOA governance into the existing approach. If the current processes are not working, it’s unlikely that adding SOA policies to the mix is going to fix anything. Only a change to the processes will fix it. Largely, this comes down to architectural governance. If you don’t have anyone with the responsibility for this, you may need to augment your governance groups to include architectural representation.

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