Integration Competency Centers and SOA

Lorraine Lawson of IT Business Edge had a post last week that linked to my previous posts on Centers of Excellence and Competency Centers entitled, “The Best Practice That Companies Ignore.” In this article, she references an eBizQ survey that revealed that only 9% of respondents had a competency center or center of excellence. While she wasn’t surprised at this, she was surprised at recent comments from Ken Vollmer of Forrester that said the same is true for Integration Competency Centers, a concept that has been around for several years. In her discussion with Ken, she states he indicated that “any organization with mid-to-high-level integration issues could benefit from an ICC.” My take on the discussion was that Ken feels that every mid to large organization should have one (my opinion, neither he nor Lorraine stated this).

The real issue I had with some of the justifications for having an ICC was an underlying assumption that intergration is a specialized discipline. While this was the case 8-10 years ago, I think we’ve made significant progress. I actually think there is a specific detriment that an ICC can have to an SOA effort. When an ICC exists, integration is now someone else’s problem. I worry about my world, and I leave it up to the integration experts to make my world accessible to everyone else. It’s this type of thinking that will doom an SOA effort, because everyone’s first concern is themselves, not everyone else. To do SOA right, your service teams should be consumer-focused first.

Regarding ICCs, the reason I don’t think there is broad adoption of the concept is that majority of companies, even large enterprises, only have one or two major systems that represent 80% of the integration effort, typically either mainframe integration or ERP integration. Companies that have grown via acquisition may have a much more difficult problem with multiple mainframes, multiple ERP systems, etc., and for them, ICCs are a good fit. I just don’t think that’s 80% of the mid-to-large businesses.

The last piece of the message, and where she linked to my posts, deals with whether or not the ICC should temporary or not. Ken’s comment was that there are always new integration tools coming out, and the ICC should be responsible for them. I don’t agree with this. There are also new development tools coming out, and I don’t see companies with a development competency center. Someone does have to be responsible for integration technologies, but this could easily be part of the responsibilities for a middleware technology architect.

Applying the same argument to SOA, again, if it’s technology-focused, I don’t buy it. If we get into the space of SOA Advocacy and Adoption, then I think there’s some value. Clearly, individual projects building services does not constitute SOA. Given that, who is guiding the broader SOA effort? Perhaps what is ultimately needed is a SOA Advocacy Center or SOA Adoption Center that is repsonsible for seeing it forward. There’s no formula for this, though. A person dedicated to being the SOA Champion with excellent relationships in the organization could potentially do this on their own. Ultimately, this become just like any other strategic initiative. To acheive the strategy, the organization must put proper leadership in place. If it’s one person, great. If it’s a standing committee, great. Just as long as it is positioned for success. Putting one person in charge who lacks the relationships won’t cut it, but putting a committee together to establish those relationships will. Whether it’s permanent or not is dependent on whether the activities can become standard practice, or if there is a continual need for leadership, guidance, and governance.

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