SOA skills shortage stalling promise of new era

A critical skills shortage is holding back the widespread use of service oriented architectures (SOA) and the promise of a new era of interoperability, according Tony Clement, the Australian Wheat Board’s (AWB) enterprise architecture and planning manager.

The big challenge of SOA, he said, is the level of implementation detail required to take the business forward.

Clement said there is a skills shortage because “analysts don’t know SOA at an implementation level, and the implementation guys are just figuring it out.”

“You may as well have those skills in-house, it will make you more agile,” Clement said, adding he was forced to build the required skills internally by training J2EE developers and solutions architects.

“Give them the opportunity to grab this and to learn,” he said.

Clement also expressed disappointment at the level of SOA skills available via IT service providers.

“It wouldn’t be difficult to find a development partner, but the question is whether they can deliver,” he said.

Clement is undertaking an SOA project to increase information interoperability in the wheat industry and help remove manual processes. The internal infrastructure is still being built.

“We really need to get an SOA and messaging-based services framework up and working internally before we can aggressively engage external parties,” he said. “Most stumbling blocks involve trying to build the architecture around existing application – basically evolving current architecture. From the technology side that is the real issue.”

However, Clement says he has received some support from IBM’s WebSphere division.

John Brand, research director for IT analyst firm Hydrasight, agrees there is “well and truly” a SOA skills shortage.

“No wonder there is a skills shortage as most people are struggling to figure out what it actually is,” Brand said. “SOA is a good buzzword but its definition changes between organizations.”

Brand said the shortage is not just in development skills but because the architecture has “never really been taught”, just developed in-house. He said he is not surprised to hear the AWB is training staff in SOA.

“Most projects are being done in-house, because every organization’s version of SOA is different,” Brand said. “When looking for skills in the market, companies find they are not aligned to what they want so they have to do it themselves.”

Brand said pressure is being put on providers to deliver SOA skills, because vendors are the knowledge keepers.

“The ones who know most about SOA are the vendors that provide the development tools and methodologies; they have the best skills,” he said. “The downside is no one wants to rely on vendors for skills. As much as everyone talks about openness with SOA, the reality is organizations pick an SOA based on the vendor they are most comfortable with.”

Brand said there is plenty of training available, but the question is how much you trust the training and if it delivers any measurable benefit over self-training programs which are “no less successful”.

SOA confusion still prevails

A survey of 100 IT managers at more than 70 medium-to-large organizations in Australia has found 64 percent of respondents are concerned about a lack of in-house knowledge and SOA expertise.

More than half, about 55 percent, were confused about SOA and said it isn’t widely understood. Undertaken jointly by InterSystems and Compuware, the survey found organizations optimistic about the benefits of SOA including greater agility and reduced integration costs.

However, respondents said benefits would take about two years to be realized. Only 9 percent of the organizations surveyed had applications currently based on SOA but this is expected to increase more than four-fold to 43 percent within three years. The survey in full is available at this Web site.

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