How to stick with SOA during the recession

The last thing today’s cash strapped IT leaders should do is scrap their service-oriented architecture plans, according to the Info-Tech Research Group.

Jayanth Angl, senior research analyst at the London, Ont.-based consultancy, stressed the importance of positioning SOA as an IT strategy, rather than an IT project. He said CIOs and IT managers must convey to business leaders the long-term benefits of SOA and remain flexible in moving forward with SOA plans.

“We’re not advising enterprises to move full speed ahead with SOA projects, as there’s going to be cases where specific projects can delayed and postponed,” Angl said. “It’s not recommended, however, to scrap the groundwork.”

“If there’s a case where an organization has made the high-level decision to move forward with SOA, it would be short-sighted to immediately scrap all of those plans during today’s economic uncertainty.”

With more and more IT leaders having to focus on simply “keeping the lights on,” some enterprises have started to abandon SOA entirely. Last month Gartner Inc. released a report indicating that SOA adoption is decining.

The number of organizations planning to adopt SOA for the first time decreased to 25 per cent; it had been 53 per cent in last year’s survey. Also, the number of organizations with no plans to adopt SOA doubled from 7 per cent in 2007 to 16 per cent in 2008. This dramatic falloff has been happening since the beginning of 2008, Gartner said.

Gartner has been doing the survey for five years, and this is the first time the numbers dropped, said analyst Dan Sholler, research vice-president at Gartner. “What we’re seeing is that there are a bunch of organizations [that] for a variety of reasons don’t expect to be doing anything specific about SOA next year,” Sholler said.

Gartner also said the number of organizations already pursuing SOA shows a massive change in the future perception of SOA, from something that is essentially inevitable for all organizations in a short time to a situation where many organizations evaluated SOA and have chosen not to spend time and effort on it.

The two major reasons organizations choose for not pursuing SOA are lack of skills and expertise and the lack of a viable business case. There is confusion about constructing a business case for SOA, Gartner said.

But according to Angl, IT leaders who can successfully highlight the long-term ROI and efficiency improvements of SOA to business leaders today will clear up this confusion and reap the benefits of enhanced business agility tomorrow.

“The idea from a development perspective is that you would be significantly streamlining and avoiding duplicated effort is a key point of value,” Angl said. Emphasizing the time and cost savings associated with streamlined development is also important.

With SOA, enterprises can write code and create processes that can be re-used by many disparate systems for multiple functions across the enterprise. Paul Strong, a distinguished research scientist at eBay Inc., described it as the “evolutionary march toward greater functional decomposition and distribution on the network.”

And SOA is about more than just integrating legacy systems, according to experts like Angl. It’s a strategy that, if to be successful, integrates all aspects of your IT infrastructure, including business processes, project management, software development and architecture, and software and hardware purchases.

“With service reuse, the benefits are pretty clear with SOA because you can avoid any type of duplication and ensure consistency with your systems,” Angl said. The development of a reusable, loosely coupled service that can be leveraged across the environment can help drive efficiency and agility, he added.

“In terms of business processes, the idea is that you are moving away from custom application development and toward a service-oriented view of delivering these businesses processes,” he said.

Angl added that he also expects to see more links between unified communications and SOA in the enterprise over the next year.

Instead of looking to save money with deep cuts to SOA initiatives, Angl said that IT leaders should first look at reducing software licensing costs as well as desktop and laptop refresh cycles.

“Revisiting licensing agreements and finding a way to optimize them – whether it be desktop licences or maintenance agreements – is a key opportunity for most mid-to-large organizations,” he said. Potentially adjusting hardware refresh cycles from three-year contracts to four- or five-year contracts would also help, Angl added.

And while many new IT projects will be put on the back burner, Angl said, IT leaders must evaluate the projects that are moving forward and how they can align with future SOA opportunities.

For enterprises that haven’t started to implement a SOA path, the planning efforts should be focused on one area – such as a legacy application – rather than a long-term business transformation.

“Mission critical legacy apps are not going away, so there should be a strategy in place,” Angl said.

– With files from IDG News Service

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