SOA strategy and execution is failing in many companies

Written by Kaushal Mashruwala | Updated: Feb 25 2008, 05:40am hrs
How many times have you heard that service-oriented architecture (SOA) is the next big thing Its particularly fascinating how the perspectives of customers and vendors evolve on the latest thing and where they find the value. The SOA wars have been interesting to watch for exactly this reason. Integration vendors, pure-play business process management (BPM) vendors and leading application platforms all have an SOA story. The major vendors have focused education efforts on teaching people what SOA is, and how it can make their infrastructures more agile. And while attendance in forums on the topic is still high, SOA strategy and execution is failing in many companies.

Take, for example, a recent Forrester Research Survey that found 38% of companies with more than 1,000 employees are not using SOA and have no plans to do so. Of the companies that are using SOA in some form or fashion, 40% havent begun or are using SOA with no clear strategy in place. The 80/20 rules seem to imply that 80% of people dont and wont get SOA in the organisation.

One key reason is that the SOA value proposition is fundamentally unimportant to business people. Its just another way to implement an application. Whats more important to business managers is how they can change, through technology, the way their businesses are run. And thats where BPM comes in. If the worlds biggest-budgeted software vendors really want to have sponsors in both IT and business units, and keep selling software, they need to elevate the role BPM plays in their suites.

SOA is yet another buzzword separating the technology haves from the have-nots. A shift is already underway. Gartner first proclaimed that SOA was entering the trough of disillusionment in 2005. While everyones hoping it is the trough, SOA is certainly ebbing in terms of expectations. But whats interesting about the cycle this go around, as opposed to the hype shifts in other technology areas is whos driving the shift. The shift in budget control post-dot-com is not the only thing that has emboldened business people. The ebb of SOA is a revolt by business people against yet another buzzword invented by IT.

SOA is not like other technologies. Rather SOAs success as a technology approach is faced with a shift in the fabric of the relationship between business and IT. Organisations that successfully cope with both the technology trend and the cultural shift will gain the elusive agility. Those that dont will find that SOA dies a lingering death amidst a cry for more business-user driven solutions.

I heard a technical architect suggest three different options for doing SOA. All three reflected the old way of thinking about the cultural fabric of the business. I propose a fourth approach for enabling an SOA strategy. Give business people a reason to care about SOAgive them BPM. It gives many businesses an approach that balances the architectural benefits of SOA against the cultural shift that business people are demanding.

The management philosophy of BPM empowers business people to think about the processes that affect their day-to-day lives and operations. It gives them a new role in defining requirements, on their terms, and creates a common language for business and IT to address real implementation level concerns. This role of BPM as the business face of SOA is not just a possibility. Its happening now. The same Forrester study, which found people struggling to adopt SOA, drilled into the details of those with successful SOA strategies. It found that of the North American businesses with clear SOA strategies, more than 90% felt that BPM was an important part of that strategy. To sum up, SOA is SOL without BPM.

The writer is MDIndia, Savvion