Avoid the worst SOA issues

SOA cannot be purchased and drop-shipped into an IT shop with magical overnight results. Implemented wisely, SOA can be a transformative force in the organization, but that transformation can be a lengthy process.

Along the way, many valuable benefits of SOA will be gradually realized, but only if appropriate governance processes are implemented to support the resultant culture shift.

Anne Thomas Manes, vice-president and research director at Burton Group and an SOA expert, is adamant: “SOA is something an organization does. . .and it is more about culture than it is about technology. SOA requires a different mindset, and it requires discipline.”

Adopting this discipline has great advantages, including:

— Reduced costs, primarily through increased reuse

— Reduced redundancy and associated decommissioning of applications

— Better consistency, security and compliance as the result of common implementation of business rules and processes

— Enhanced human productivity, efficiency, effectiveness and satisfaction as a result of improved business processes and user interfaces

Adoption of SOA is not without challenges, including:

— Organizational changes will be required, especially to organizational structures, accounting practices and incentive systems.

— Comprehensive education will be required for IT staff and relevant business partners to ensure consistent architecture and development knowledge.

— New infrastructure and upgrades will be required.

— People are resistant to change and may fall back on old habits, thereby missing the benefits of SOA and creating modern silos instead of agile applications.

Manes offers several concrete recommendations to help organizations headed down the SOA path from “failing spectacularly.” Most of her advice centers on planning and governance activities to ensure judicious design, maintenance and evolution of the SOA effort. Specifically:

— Organizations should set up an SOA program office which leads the effort. This office is responsible for developing an adoption plan and business case, and will serve as a primary communication channel between business and IT. This ongoing communication and management is required for a successful SOA initiative.

— To achieve true collaboration and enterprise-scale SOA success, both business and IT teams will have to be nudged out of their comfort zones and start working with less-familiar parts of the organization. The program office will develop new governance processes, policies and best practices to facilitate this culture shift and ensure the overall success of the SOA initiative.

— Although SOA is widely accepted as “the right way” to build modern applications, adoption in large organizations is often inhibited by cultural inertia. In spite of this, many companies are experiencing substantial success and cost savings, even in the early stages of SOA maturity. Companies that successfully institute SOA have worked to change its mindset.

— The discipline required for success is operationalized in new governance programs aimed at developing and managing the SOA roadmap.

Chris Howard is vice-president and director of the Executive Advisory Program at the Burton Group. Howard is a former university professor with more than 16 years of IT consulting experience.

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