SOA Battered and Bruised

In between the recent (and completely unnecessary, in my opinion) debate over Web 2.0 and SOA, a more pessimistic tone toward SOA has begun to emerge. Joe McKendrick recently discussed this in his ZDNet blog, “Is SOA ready for the ‘slope of enlightenment?'”

The pace of things that the press, analysts, and vendors like to push is absolutely ridiculous, and increasingly frustrating. Unfortunately, it’s the way things work. Simply writing this blog has given me some exposure to this world. It is no easy task to continue to come up with interesting SOA related things to discuss on this blog. Kudos to bloggers like James McGovern who are posting every single day, and on the whole, keeping it interesting. I’m doing it on my own time, with only a goal of sharing information with experts in the community. Imagine if I was actually trying to make a living based on this information. In order to keep it interesting, you either have to provide a new spin on the same old information, or take the emphasis off of the information and focus it on the presentation. The most successful path is to do both: continue to look for a new angles (and new information), while doing so in a manner that keeps people interested.

On the flip side, there are those of us that are actually trying to adopt SOA within an enterprise. What’s a realistic timeframe to do so? It certainly isn’t 6 months, and I’d be hard pressed to believe that it can be done in a large organization in 18 months. Let’s face it, unless you’ve already taken some of the first steps toward SOA prior to the recent hype cycle, we’re talking about an effort that will take years, not months. It’s hard to market something successfully for that long of a timeframe. A case study that states that a company is 40% of the way there is less interesting than one that makes it appear that a company is 100% of the way there.

As companies are in the middle of their adoptions, comments about the “trough of disillusionment” actually make it more difficult for organizations to be successful due to management by magazine. The marketing hype continues the trend of unrealistic expectations, too much focus on short term gains, and a lack of strategic planning. For once, it would be nice if technology adoption had expectations like the drug discovery process. It takes years, often more than 10, to bring a successful drug to market. When a potential lead compound is found by a company researching cancer cures, there is no huge marketing hype. The lead compound merely goes to the next stage in a long, long process. Only when some form of clinical trial success begins to occur does the marketing machine come into play.

While I’m certainly not advocating a turtle’s pace in SOA adoption efforts, I am advocating a steady, managed approach. There are technology trends that will provide short term benefits, and there are technology trends that are broader and more strategic in nature. A company needs to leverage both to successfully use technology for competitive advantage. Just because it is technology-based, doesn’t mean that it can be implemented faster than any other strategic initiative.

One Response to “SOA Battered and Bruised”

  • Alex:

    Todd, you’re spot on to what the real problem with SOA is. Everybody who knows a toddle about it recognise it for what it is worth, and some of us also see the amazing potential it has for solving some serious enterprise problems in quite simple and elegant ways. But that’s just technology. The real problem is that the hype *needs* shorter time-frames, bigger ROI, larger safety-nets, and also needs to be something that a manager can initiate and take full credit for when successful before said manager has retired or moved on.

    I see it as my personal responsibility to make a SOA a reality in my organisation, either out in the open (joint projects, open talks) or hidden (every application and service I create has a pipeline through to a SOA that is currently also hidden). As a holistic thinker and a problem-solver I find the option of *not* adopting a SOA approach to all development a huge mistake that I simply will not be a part of. When I come to the Pearly Gates of developers and St. Turing asks “what did you do to make development better” I at least can point to my feable efforts here. SOA goes way beyond mere development of *applications*; it is development (in the positive tense) of the whole organisation and solves many problems easily that in the past we were afraid of attempting to tackle.

    Another thing is that it is the right thing to do, but becomes close to worthless if your fellow workers don’t see the light, don’t understnad it, or just outright rejects the idea (“what we’ve already got does the job just fine”). Realistic time-frames certainly is a prohibitor for an all-embracing SOA, but I’ve found so much low-hanging fruit that I think needs to be overly promoted; enterprise SOA has a lot of juicy smaller bits that can convert any old goat, I reckon. (I’m currently on a blog hiatus, but perhaps the time is ripe to get going again; as you, I’m enthusiastic and excited by the possibilities SOA offers)

    Oh, and thanks for your great blog.

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