Are you being played in the SOA game plan?

If you believe everything you hear, service-oriented architecture is taking over the world, and anyone not in the game is likely to be left on the sidelines. The move to SOA may indeed be inevitable, but it can be hard to accomplish in the current economic environment. Vendors are also struggling with heavy investments in SOA, and they, too, have to make a profit during this economic downturn. This begs the question of whether you truly need to score on the SOA front immediately-or are you just being played?

“Some vendors, those who were a bit too zealous regarding their expectations on volume and buy-in time lines, have ratcheted down the noise and focus on SOA,” says Sandra Rogers, director of SOA, Web services and integration research at IDC Research (a sister company of “Meanwhile, other vendors-those who remain committed-are becoming a bit more realistic and mature about the pace and extent SOA will advance. Now they are [better] articulating how it can fit into overall IT strategies.”

Vendors who were looking for a fast buck are changing their tune entirely. “Some vendors who promoted composite applications have just changed terminology to promote the same concepts under the banner of mashups,” explains Rogers. “While this gains some additional attention, in some cases it may stall interest from those enterprises looking for greater stability to road map, vision and messaging from their vendors.”

This sales approach can backfire on vendors. “They may appear to some businesses as more dispensable initiatives at this particular point in time,” she says.

Regardless of how SOA is pitched, the payoff is generally real. “Reuse is easier to measure than strategic business benefits, especially in the early days, but the potential financial benefits of reuse are limited to cutting a percentage of your development budget, whereas the value of strategic business benefits is virtually unlimited,” explains Larry Fulton, senior analyst at Forrester Research. “So, reuse is a nice benefit and easy to quantify, but it is not the largest potential for SOA by any measure.”

Unfortunately, this message gets lost in the pitch and is often even left out of the sales brochure. “SOA is marketed and sold totally different outside the U.S.,” reveals Frank Kenney, research director at Gartner. “Here, it’s all about reuse; in South America, South Africa, the Middle East and Asia Pacific, it’s about business processes. I have faith that the U.S. will eventually catch up.”

Given the different pitches by time zone, is the interest in SOA globally high?

“Our current research finds approximately 50 percent of survey respondents, most of whom work for large companies, reporting that they have already deployed either SOA or Web services,” reports Julie Craig, senior analyst at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA). “Although the two design choices are technically very different, my experience has been that there is a lot of confusion among consumers as to which is which and how the two are different. So the 50 percent figure could be high, based on that confusion.”

In other words, most people think they are into SOA. Funny thing is, most of them are-just not always in the way they think they are.

“One interesting trend is that software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendor products are virtually all SOA-based,” says Craig. Just about everyone is using some form of SaaS.

Craig says SaaS vendors are leveraging SOA for the same reasons that companies do: for service reuse, simplicity of deployment, abstraction from underlying infrastructure and ease of modification going forward. In addition, many established ISVs in the enterprise management space are investing considerable resources in rewriting products to run on an SOA, platform-based design. “This is a nontrivial exercise, especially for those vendors with extensive legacy code sets. It is working, but it is slow-and expensive,” she says.

With SaaS and other SOA-based vendors struggling to capture a return on investment post-haste, there should be some pricing wiggle room to help you save on your own SOA investments, shouldn’t there?

“Absolutely. Even before the current downturn, vendors were experimenting with new pricing models to better match customer’s longer ramp-up for SOA,” says Fulton. “This is particularly true in the design-time governance space, where vendors are trying things like pricing based on the number of governed services or developers, and I expect we’ll see this trend continue in other areas as well.

“Also, this incremental adoption reality makes it very attractive for vendors to get a toe in the door, increasing the likelihood that you will come back for more down the road, so customers have a lot of leverage at this early stage,” he adds.

There are other price negotiating advantages that can be leveraged by savvy buyers. “Start with the vendors you already work with,” advises Kenney. “You might not have to buy as much to make SOA happen for you. Take, for example, enterprise service buses: Tell your vendors, ‘I have problems making your widget work with my SOA plan, so get in here and help me fix it.'”

However, SOA architects aren’t feeling any real pricing pressures, so don’t expect to reap many savings there. “TCS is not facing pricing pressure for services related to assessment, consulting and architecture definition services,” confides Dr. Santosh Mohanty, head of Global Technology Excellence, Tata Consulting Service (TCS). “However, some of the operational-level SOA initiatives have reduced annual budget and hence extended the program, but there is no pricing pressure.”

“In case of enterprises that are convinced about the value that SOA will bring to them in terms of adaptability, efficiency and agility, there is no slowdown. And most of these enterprises have a top-down implementation of service oriented architecture,” he further explains.

As to where SOA goes from here and whether you should bother with the whole shebang: “If service orientation-even on a modest, initial scale-holds the promise of real competitive advantage for your organization, it follows that this is true for your competition,” says Fulton. “It might make sense to prioritize your SOA efforts and focus on those projects with the biggest competitive advantage, but I would be concerned about stopping SOA adoption entirely, since there is no guarantee that the competition will do the same thing, and that could put you at a serious disadvantage.”

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