SOA, EA, and EA Frameworks

Both Collin Smith and Rob Eamon responded to my post regarding my participation in an upcoming panel discussion at the Gartner EA Summit asking for my thoughts on SOA, EA, and EA Frameworks, so I thought I’d oblige.

First off, I can be considered a “big SOA” advocate. That is, I think it needs to be applied at something larger than a project scope. I think it needs to be an initiative that is not tied to any one particular implementation project. This implies that it needs to be driven by a group in the organization that is not predominantly consumed with project activities. One obvious candidate, therefore, is an Enterprise Architecture organization. In fact, I can’t think of any other organization that is as good of a fit. Individual managers may embrace it, but they are typically not positioned to guide the organizational and cultural changes required, except at the highest levels. Their primary concern (and rightly so) is typically keeping their stakeholders happy. Enterprise-wide, or even department-wide adoption of SOA can be very disruptive in the short term. So, if I had to pick a group to drive SOA adoption, it will almost always be enterprise architecture.

As for whether “SOA folds into EA,” I agree with Rob’s comments. SOA doesn’t replace Enterprise Architecture, it’s simply one view of the enterprise. Today, one could argue that most organizations view the IT landscape as a collection of applications. Efforts like application rationalization or application portfolio management reinforce this notion. So, you could also say that today we have application oriented architectures. The unit of composition is the application. This isn’t flexible enough, as it is too coarsely defined. If we break these applications into smaller uniits, we now get to service oriented architecture, which I feel is a better way of describing things. Is it the only way? Certainly not. There may be value in a process-oriented view. We still need deployment-centric views that simply show physical, and now virtual, servers. We may need a network-centric view. These are all tools in the toolbox of the Enterprise Architecture team, and depending on your specific responsibilities within that team, some may be more important than others. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a background in human-computer interaction going all the way back to my college days, and one thing that I’ve always believed is that it is very unlikely that one view, whether it be a diagram, a user interface, will meet the needs of everyone. This is why I’m also not a huge fan of EA Frameworks. I think EA frameworks can be of great value when you’re starting out. The scope of EA can be daunting, and if you’re tasked with establishing an EA practice in an organization, it never hurts to begin with an established framework. When those frameworks become too focused on trying to make everything fit into a one-sized fits all approach, rather than on actually making the effort successful is where things can become problematic. Within EA, I don’t think it’s necessarily the fault of the frameworks, but more due to EA being an immature practice. While the concepts have been around for more than a decade, there are still many large organizations (at least in the area where I live) that don’t have an EA practice at all, or have only been doing it for 2 or 3 years. While my sample base is relatively small, my experiences have been that every organization does it differently. Some EA groups have significant authority, some have virtually no authority. Some groups spend all of their time engaged on projects, some have no engagement with projects. Some are committees, some are standing organizations. Some are exclusively focused on managed the technology footprint, some are actively involved with business strategy and business architecture. With this much variation, it’s hard for any framework to achieve wide adoption, because they’re simply not a good fit for the short term needs that the EA team needs to accomplish. When the primary artifact of EA tends to be intellectual capital (i.e. thought leadership, future state models, etc.), you need to have flexibility in how that capital is represented, because consumption is the number one factor, not standardization.

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