Looking back on SOA from the future

Joe McKendrick asked the question in his blog, “How will we look back on SOA in 2020?” This is actually something I’ve been thinking about (well, maybe not 2020, but certainly the future) in preparation for the panel discussion at The Open Group EA Practitioners Conference next week.

One of the things that I’m very interested in is the emerging companies of today, and what their technology will look like in the future. So many companies today are having to deal with existing systems, focusing on activities such as service enablement. Largely, these exercises are akin to turning a battleship on a dime. It’s not going to happen quickly. While I’m fully confident that in 2020 many of these companies will have successfully turned the battleship, I think it will be even more interesting to see what companies that had a blank slate look like.

Dana Gardner recently had a podcast with Annrai O’Toole of Cape Clear Software, where they discussed the experiences of Workday, a Cape Clear customer. Workday is a player in the HR software space, providing a SaaS solution, in contrast to packaged offerings from others. Workday isn’t the company I’d like to talk about however. The companies that I’m more interested in are the ones that are Workday customers. Workday is a good example for the discussion, because in the podcast, Dana and Annrai discuss how the integration problems of the enterprise, such as communication between HR and your payroll provider (e.g. ADP), are now Workday’s problems. By architecting for this integration from the very beginning, however, Workday is at a distinct advantage. I expect that emerging companies with a clean IT slate will likely leverage these SaaS solutions extensively, if for no other reason than the cost. They won’t have a legacy system that may have been a vertical solution 20 years ago, but is now a horizontal solution that looks like a big boat anchor on the bottom line.

One thing that I wanted to call out about the Workday discussion was their take on integration with third parties. As I mentioned, they’ve made that integration their problem. This is a key point that shouldn’t be glossed over, as it’s really what SOA is all about. SOA is about service. The people at Workday recognized that their customers will need their solution to speak to ADP and other third parties. They could easily have punted and told their customers, “Sorry, integration with that company is your problem, you’re the one who chose them.” Not only is that lousy service, but it also results in a breakdown of the boundaries that a good SOA should establish. In this scenario, a customer would have to jury rig some form of data extract process and act as a middleman in an integration that would be much better suited without one. You have potentially sensitive data flowing through more systems, increasing the risk.

The moral of this story is that there are very few times in a company’s history where the technology landscape is a blank slate. Companies that are just starting to build their IT landscape should keep this in mind. I’ve blogged in the past on how the project-based culture where schedule is king can be detrimental to SOA. An emerging company is probably under even more time-to-market pressure, so the risk is even greater to throw something together. If that’s the case, I fear that IT won’t look much different in 2020 than it does today, because the way we approach IT solutions won’t have changed at all. Fortunately, I’m an optimist, so I think things will look significantly different. More on that at (and after) the conference.

One Response to “Looking back on SOA from the future”

  • […] Our colleague, Todd Biske, voiced such concerns when he remarked that project-based culture can hamper SOA rollouts because it compromises longer term architectural goals with short term deliverables that might yield only fleeting benefit. But Biske believes against all belief that things will get better -– or in this case, that time will prove that architecting for SOA will is what we’d term a no-brainer. […]

Leave a Reply


This blog represents my own personal views, and not those of my employer or any third party. Any use of the material in articles, whitepapers, blogs, etc. must be attributed to me alone without any reference to my employer. Use of my employers name is NOT authorized.