Archive for the ‘Outsourcing’ Category

Services in a box

While doing my thinking outside the box, I ran across Joe McKendrick’s post discussing whether SOA can be boxed. Joe provided commentary on a blog entry from Jack van Hoof who called out that the major ERP-vendors could potentially deliver “SOA in a box.” He points out:

SAP offers a service bus, service registry, events registry, canonical data management, business processes, services deployments (!), business monitoring, business process management, security… out-of-the-box. Yes, of course the implementation must be tuned and configured. But it’s all there, out-of-the-box.

There’s a certain amount of truth to this statement. It’s probably better stated as services in a box, because after all, it’s a box. We have no idea what the underlying architecture of SAP is. While it may be the case that SAP or any other large ERP system could constitute the bulk of your infrastructure, that doesn’t mean that you’re suddenly purchasing an SOA. If new business needs come along, it’s now up to your ERP system to provide those capabilities. If they’re new, then it’s the ERP vendor who must figure out how to quickly make the changes necessary, if they even choose to do so, since it would have to be something with broad customer applicability to make financial sense for them. It’s certainly possible to build custom code on top of the ERP system, but you’re always going to have that dependency. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, you just have to choose wisely on where to leverage the ERP system.

I’d like to pick on one comment Joe made in his commentary. He stated:

…the idea of buying all SOA from one vendor flies in the face of the ultimate meaning and purpose of SOA — the ability to pick and choose tools, applications and services from any and all vendors. SOA is supposed to mean the end of vendor lock-in.

I don’t agree with this opinion. While services can be used to create an abstraction layer from vendor products, I don’t think it needs to be a goal. The factors that influence whether an organization leverages one vendor, lots of vendors, or no vendors really doesn’t come into play at all. What SOA should do is assist you in making appropriate vendor decisions. Just as I commented some time ago that SOA should neither increase nor decrease outsourcing, but instead ensure increase the chance that outsourcing efforts are successful, the same holds true for choosing vendors. By breaking the problem domain down to a finer-grained level (services rather than applications), I can make better decisions on the vendor products I choose. If they don’t expose services for the capabilities I need, I’m going to look elsewhere. The only thing that could start leading toward better insulation from vendor lock-in will be more standards in the vertical domains. There’s plenty of standards out there, but there’s probably far more spaces that are not standardized.

So, what’s my advice? I don’t think you can buy “SOA in a box,” you can only buy “services in a box.” Your enterprise architects need to be the ones defining the architecture, and then leveraging the architecture to ensure that not only your home grown systems, but also your vendor systems, whether from one or many, adhere to it.

Is a competition model good for IT?

Back in February, Jason Bloomberg of ZapThink posted a ZapFlash entitled “Competitive SOA.” I didn’t blog about it at the time, but this topic was brought back to the forefront of my mind by this post from Ian Thomas, with some follow-on commentary from Joe McKendrick.

While I’m not one to take one side or the other strongly, I must admit that I have significant reservations about a competition model, whether it is internal competition as suggested in the initial ZapThink article, or it is competition between IT and outside providers of services. First, let’s get the easy part of this out of the way. Part of Ian’s article is about simply running IT as a business and having good cost accounting. I’m certainly not going to argue about this. This being said, there’s a big difference between being a division or department of a company versus a supplier to a company.

I believe strongly that a customer/supplier relationship between IT and the end users of IT in the business is a bad thing, in most cases. If IT moves to exclusively to that model, the business leaders should clearly always be considering outsourcing IT completely. In doing so, it definitely sends a clear message that technology usage is not going to be a competitive advantage for this company. I believe that outsourcing can make sense for horizontal domains, where cost management is the most important concern.

The right model, in my opinion, is to have IT be part of the business, not a supplier to the business. To be part of a business, you need to be a partner, not a supplier. Brenda Michelson posted some excerpts from a Wall Street Journal interview with three CIO’s: Meg McCarthy of Aetna, Inc., Frank Modruson of Accenture Ltd., and Steve Squeri of American Express Co. Some great quotes from this:

Ms. McCarthy: At Aenta, the IT Organization is critical to enabling the implementation of our business strategy. I report to the chairman of our company and I am a member of the executive committee. In that capacity, I participate in all of the key business conversations/decisions that impact the company strategy and the technology strategy.

Mr. Squeri: I believe that over the next 10 years, the CIO will get more involved in the overall business strategy of the company and see their role expand in importance. The CIO will be increasingly called upon not only to translate business strategies into capabilities but to become even more forward-looking to determine what capabilities the business will need in the future.

The days of tech leaders as relationship managers and “order takers” will go by the wayside and they will be called upon to create and drive technology strategies that drive business capabilities.

It’s great to hear these leaders calling out how IT is becoming a partner, rather than a supplier. While our business leaders are certainly more tech-savvy than they have been in the past, there is still significant value in having people that specialize in technology adoption and utilization on your leadership team, just as you have people who specialize in sales, marketing, operations, etc.

Ian suggests letting “self interest flourish within the bounds set by the organisational context as long as it delivers cost-effective services but punish it by outsourcing where it doesn’t.” Cost reduction is just one factor in a complex decision. Holding the threat of outsourcing over IT may certainly in a more efficient operation, but applying those principles to areas where the decision shouldn’t be based on cost efficiency, but strategic impact to the business is a risky proposition. Let the business, which includes IT, decide what’s right to outsource and what isn’t. It shouldn’t be a threat or a punishment, but a decision that all parties involved agree makes good business sense.


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.