SOA, why bother?

1 November 2007

SOA has been the flavour of the month for at least the last four years. Now it`s starting to take to the air as organisations get on board, but there`s still some uncertainty.

Service oriented architecture (SOA) has been on many vendors` lips since at least 2003. It is only now beginning to really take off, but many organisations are still undecided as to whether or not it is worth all the effort.

Research firm Gartner says that “successfully growing a service oriented architecture can be extremely challenging, but the reward is greater business agility. You`ll also benefit from better resource utilisation and lower maintenance costs in the longer term.”

According to a report released in September (Why You Should Bother Building an SOA), building a service oriented architecture is difficult. “It requires skills that are difficult to find, it is error prone and it requires technology that is complex and frequently expensive. Worse still, it demands tight coordination and organisational changes and is a nightmare to govern. As a result, many IT leaders wonder whether SOA is really worth the effort,” the report says.

The reward [of SOA] is greater business agility. Gartner
Companies that are still sceptical about SOA fall into one of three categories, according to Gartner:

1. You think SOA isn`t worth the effort: an SOA approach can increase the efficiency of IT operations via the re-use of common, shared business services in multiple processes and systems. Increased IT efficiency enables organisations to reallocate scarce resources from projects aimed at running the business toward projects that drive business differentiation. The agility in defining new processes out of self-contained software modules can also help reduce the number of process steps, enabling smoother operations and overall cost savings. The number of case studies proving real business benefits in real companies is growing daily.

2. You think SOA is too hard: you are not far from the truth. SOA is hard, but not too hard. Small SOA projects that hit good business value with a small number of services are not that hard to find and execute. As the SOA matures, success will hinge on a collection of technology and organisational factors, including organisational structure, managed services, service oriented development of application requirements, underlying software infrastructure and evolving service oriented business applications.

3. You don`t think SOA is as big as it`s made out to be: there`s a lot of hype surrounding SOA, but don`t forget the real benefits and the fact that those benefits are being proven in the field. Those benefits are so valuable that the pain it takes to get there is worth going through. SOA gives the organisation greater agility to respond to business demands for new application functionality, changed processes or information access.

Gartner recommends* that organisations should build a business case linking conceptual SOA capabilities and characteristics to IT and business benefits.

“IT organisations that effectively bridge this communication gap will be able to identify the metrics necessary to quantify SOA value,” the company states. “Securing agreement on and widespread communication of SOA-related business and IT benefits among different groups within the organisation are critical first steps in identifying likely SOA projects. Once this base level of communication is assured, the IT organisation should select SOA projects with an understanding that SOA value is based solely on its effectiveness in positively impacting pre-defined, commonly agreed on business objectives and opportunities, such as those outlined above. IT staff should not expose business staff to SOA as an acronym. Instead, IT should follow best practices.”

Sources: Why You Should Bother Building an SOA – Paolo Malinverno, 21 September 2007, and *Building a Service Oriented Architecture Business Case: Effective Communication Is the First Step – Michael Barnes, 2 March 2007.

Reports courtesy of Gartner.