Success with SOA

This topic has been wandering around my head for a while, and a recent post by Joe McKendrick of ZDNet brought it back to the forefront. Sidenote: why can’t people get Joe’s name right? David Chappell of Sonic Software called him Joel McKendrick, and every time David Linthicum quotes him in his SOA Podcast, it sounds like “Joe McItrick.” Anyway, in this entry, Joe has some quotes from John deVadoss of Microsoft. He states:

In the Q&A, deVadoss says the most important thing about SOAs is that they are a means to an end — not an end in and of themselves. “There is . . . a preponderance of what I call the top-down, big-bang mega approach, which is often guilty of trying to ‘do SOA’ as opposed to delivering business value,” deVadoss says. “The fundamental problem with the big-bang mega approaches to SOA is that they almost always end up being out-of-sync with the needs of the business.”

There’s a lot of truth in that statement, but how do organizations end up that way? One suspicion that I have is that the organization was already that way to being with. I had the opportunity to have lunch with someone two weeks ago who is a VP of Operations (business operations, not IT) at a local enterprise. We discussed how he was leveraging BPM technologies. I left the lunch thinking how great this was that the use of IT was being driven by a tech-savvy business executive. There wasn’t any discussion about top-down or bottom-up. Having a plan for where the business needed to go was part of his job, not something that needed to be justified. He knew what could be taken on and where IT fit into the picture, and was able to successfully leverage it. Take now, in contrast, an enterprise where IT is a bunch of order takers, without clear strategic planning. It’s certainly possible that the lack of strategic planning goes all the way back to the business, as well. The lack of IT alignment may just be a symptom of poor alignment throughout the organization. Organizations like that are going to struggle to accomplish anything of a strategic nature, SOA and BPM just being recent examples. While there may be some room for some incremental success, there are bigger problems that exist preventing it.

In short, while SOA is touted as some as the tool which will increase IT and business alignment, so far, it’s only the enterprises that already had great IT and business alignment that are truly leveraging it successfully. Think of it like the difference between the automobiles that we drive to work and a Formula One race car. Technology in the race car could allow us to drive ridiculously fast, but if you put the average driver in that car, they’ll crash and burn. It’s only the drivers that were already on the racing circuit that can stay on the track. For the rest of us, there is a culture change that must occur in the organization before we can get on the track.

6 Responses to “Success with SOA”

  • Todd,

    Yes, I believe your perception of the SOA tools and ability to use them is on target. In short there is no magical IT toolkit or quick rich scheme for any of us. Just a lot of work to understand how best to use the appropriate tools, and there is no short-cut for solid architecture and development practices.

    More importantly though, what you touched upon about a technology competent business executive is paramount for a successful enterprise architecture that includes a SOA approach. Information technology and business operations must work together for a successful enterprise that best utilizes its portfolio of technology. Enterprise Architects are the technology experts, and now that is just the price of admission for them. Architects also must obtain deep understanding of business operations so they effectively communicate and collaborate with the business executives.

    As you mentioned, there was no discussion of top down/bottom up approaches. I suspect because that discussion had no meaning, since business process, services, and enabling technology was approached from what is bringing direct business value instead of focus on SOA itself. However, even with that approach, under the covers there is significant infrastructure and training cost that go along with initial implementations. This is usually looked at from an immediate ROI perspective, and the only way to get the numbers to mean something usually ends up with a mega-project, which we all know has extreme risk.

    Back to your point, SOA will have a much lower initial cost if the organization is already functioning well in both IT and business operations. They already have the stock IT best practices in place with regard to technology and governance. SOA is just the next step, and not the huge step it might be for the vast majority of companies. So perhaps for these organizations there is no need for the mega-project to get the numbers to look attractive.

    Also with tight collaboration between the strategic business and technology executives, the additional technology expenditures can be looked at from within the context of added business capabilities in line with the business growth plan. Instead of, “looks like IT had a capital expenditure budget variance; it’s the corporate penalty box for you!� However, in defense of our business officers, they have to answer to the share holders about the cost of building out these capabilities, and they have to answer that question every quarter.

    So, yes I agree SOA itself does very little, or nothing at all, to bring about the corporate culture that has technology and business leaders collaborating at level that is required to get the full advantage of an SOA approach.


  • Todd:

    Thanks for your comments Tom, they definitely help to reiterate the points that I was trying to make.

  • Thanks, Todd, great post. I actually get called all kinds of things… 😉

    Your points are spot on. I suspect — and have written about this — that many organizations remain in business in spite of themselves. These are the firms that could use SOA methodologies, but are the least like to adopt SOA thinking.

    The firms that are ahead of the pack in everything else also are the ones embracing SOA. For the rest of us, it’s SOA, one project at a time.

    Tom Rose makes some excellent points on this theme as well.


  • Good points. It takes a lot of evangelizing to make the SOA a reality in an enterprise. The most important part of introducing SOA is to point out the business problem SOA will solve and how it will shape the direction of growth for the company. In addition, and architect must be prepared to talk about how the organization may have to change to embrace the direction.

    The soft skills need to be honed before introducing SOA to an organization “in business despite of themselves” (good description by the way ;)). The investment has to be seen as a long term goal if it makes sense to the business. Showing the long-term goal will help to flush out the ROI of the incremental change to SOA. Start with infrastructure and a business need then migrate other functionality to the approach if it makes sense.

    There is a lot of process and organizational changes that happen that are usually not covered within an inital ROI assessment.

  • […] The italicized text is what really surprised me. Previously, I had a post that said that the organizations that are claiming success with SOA probably had a culture that already had IT and business working together at a higher level. Therefore, I would expect that a business that realizes “the benefits of an agile, reusable, and loosely coupled architecture (even if they don’t call it that)” has a mature Enterprise Architecture practice, with IT having a seat at the strategic planning table. If that’s the case, it would be even more surprising to find a huge gap between IT management and architecture and the actual IT execution. That tells me that some CIO, CTO, or Chief Architect is not doing their job very well. […]

  • […] Joe and I both had posts on this topic back in October of 2006 (see here and here). This is simply the nature of way things progress. You have a certain class of organization that are the leaders that have a high percentage of success at whatever they do. The problem, however, comes with the middle class. What we’d like to see is that middle class of organizations merely trailing the leaders, but still eventually achieving success. Instead, we’re at risk of seeing the “haves” and the “have nots.” Anne calls out that Service Averse Architecture is the status quo, and that’s a shame. As long as it continues to be the status quo, we’re not going to progress as an industry, and if anything, it fuels the fire of those that question the relevance of IT. After all, if businesses continue to thrive despite having continued dissatisfaction with IT support, then is IT really a differentiator worth investing in, or is it simply a necessary cost center where the focus should be on driving costs down to rock bottom levels? I believe IT can be a differentiator, but like Anne, I do believe it’s a very select few who are able to do so. […]

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