Are you SOA compliant?

There was a question on the Yahoo SOA group on the notion of SOA compliance, jokingly introduced in this blog from January of 2006 discussing SOA compliant toasters and cell phones. The important question was whether there is a notion of “SOA compliance” or not.

I fall in the camp of saying yes. There won’t be any branding initiative associated with it, however, because it’s not about compliance with some general notion of what SOA is (such as having a product that exposes Web Services or REST interfaces), it’s about a solution’s ability to fit within the SOA of its customers.

It is certainly true that many enterprises are moving toward a “buy” strategy instead of a “build” strategy. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have any work in planning out their SOA, however. Organizations that simply accept what the vendors give them are going to have difficulty in performing strategic architectural planning. The typical IT thinking may be that this is simply an integration problem, but it’s deeper than that.

Previously, I had a post on horizontal and vertical thinking. In this discussion, I called out that an organization needs to understand what domains of functionality are horizontal, and what domains are vertical. When looking at vendors, if their model doesn’t match up with the organization’s model, conflict will occur. It may not be at an integration level, it may be at a higher semantic level where the way the business wants to use a tool just doesn’t match with the way the vendor chose to provide those capabilities. Having a domain model of the business functionality provides a way to quantitatively assess (or at least get a step closer to it) the ability of a product to be successful in the enterprise. This is the notion of SOA compliance, in my opinion.

On the vendor side of the equation, the vendor needs to be able to express their capability in the form of functionality model that can easily demonstrate how it would fit into a company’s SOA. This applies whether it’s a hosted solution or a shrink-wrapped product. Any vendor that’s using SOA in its marketing efforts but can’t express this should be viewed with caution. After all, architectural compliance is only one factor in the equation, however I think it’s one that can have strategic, rather than short-term implications.

In my experience, neither side is very well positioned to allow a quantitative assessment of SOA compliance. Both parties lack the artifacts necessary, and there certainly aren’t any standards around it. Even just having Visio diagrams with rectangles labeled “such-and-such service” would be an improvement in many cases. More often than not, the vendors win out for a simple reason: they have a marketing department, whereas the typical enterprise architecture organization does not. You can assume that a vendor has at least created some collateral for intelligent conversations with Enterprise Architects, however, you can’t assume that an enterprise has created collateral for intelligent conversations with vendors. It needs to go both ways.

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