Governance and SOA Success

Michael Meehan, Editor-in-Chief of, posted a summary of a talk from Anne Thomas Manes of the Burton Group given at Burton’s Catalyst conference in late June. In it, Anne presented the findings of a survey that she did with colleague Chris Haddad on SOA adoption.

Michael stated:

Manes repeatedly returned to the issues of trust and culture. She placed the burden for creating that trust on the shoulders of the IT department. “You’re going to have to create some kind of culture shift,” she said. “And you know what? You’ve been breaking their hearts for so many years, it’s up to you to take the first step.”

I’m very glad that Anne used the term “culture shift,” because that’s exactly what it is. If there is no change in the way IT defines and builds solutions other than slapping a new technology on the same old stuff, we’re not going to even put a dent in the perceptions the rest of the organization has about IT, and are even at risk of making it worse.

The article went on to discuss Cigna Group Insurance and their success, after a previous failure. A new CIO emphasized the need for culture change, started with understanding the business. The speaker from Cigna, Chad Roberts, is quoted in Michael’s article as saying, “We had to be able to act and communicate like a business person.” He also said, “We stopped trying to build business cases for SOA, it wasn’t working. Instead use SOA to strengthen the existing business case.” I went back and re-read a previous post, that I thought made a similar point, but found that I wasn’t this clear. I think Chad nails it.

In a discussion about the article in the Yahoo SOA group, Anne followed up with a few additional nuggets of wisdom.

One thing I found really surprising was that the people from the
successful initiatives rarely talked about their infrastructure. I had
to explicitly solicit the information from them. From their
perspective, the technology was the least important aspect of their

This is great to hear. While there are plenty of us out there that have stated again and again that SOA isn’t about applying WS-*/REST or buying an ESB, it still needs to be emphasized. A surprising comment, however, was this one:

They rarely talked about design-time governance — other
than improving their SDLC processes. They implemented governance via
better processes. Most of it was human-driven, although many use
repositories to manage artifacts and coordinate lifecycle. But again,
the governance effort was less important than the investment in social
I’m still committed to my assertion that governance is critical to a
successful SOA initiative–but only because governance is a means to
effect behavioral change. The true success factor is changing

I think what we’re seeing here is the effects of governance becoming a marketing term. The telling statement is in Anne’s second paragraph- governance is a means to effect behavioral change. My definition of governance is the people, policies, and processes that an organization employs to achieve a desired behavior. It’s all about behavior change in my book. So, when the new Cigna CIO makes a mandate that IT will understand the business first and think about technology second, that’s a desired behavior. What are the policies that ensured this happened? I’m willing to bet that there were some significant changes to the way projects were initiated at Cigna as part of this. Were the policies that, if adhered to, would lead to a funded project documented and communicated? Did they educate first, and then only enforce where necessary? That sounds like governance to me, and guess what- it led to success!

2 Responses to “Governance and SOA Success”

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.