A thousand stories emerge in the SOA city

Tales of success and growing pains are shared at SOA Executive Forum

More and more intriguing stories are emerging around pioneering SOA rollouts, and many were shared at this week's SOA Executive Forum in San Francisco. The event appears to have drawn quite an impressive turnout, demonstrating the growing interest companies have in service-orienting their businesses.  

Fellow ZDNet commentator Dana Gardner was on the scene, reporting that many early success stories have been shared, and are as varied as the businesses themselves. "Many of the speakers are defining ROI and early successes with SOA, are describing the way they began SOA, and relating the tools and products they used," he observes. "The neat thing is that there is great variability. And perhaps this is appropriate. SOA should, in order to become truly transformative, align closely to each organizations' specific legacy IT resources, data assets, business imperatives, vertical industry requirements, and cultures (as a crude opening list). How many companies will be the same across these variables? Very few."

Dana goes on to observe that "the way that SOA emerges in any given organization more closely resembles a Jackson Pollock painting in terms of process," cropping up as splatters, streaks, blobs, in fits and starts across a company in a highly individual pattern of creative chaos. No two paintings could or should be the same. Eventually the canvas is covered with fewer streaks and spots, and SOA is attained to provide an impression of far less complexity, at least from a distance."  Excellent analogy, Dana.

Phil Windley was also in attendance, and provides additional insights into the various stages of SOA companies find themselves in. He cites a discussion led by BEA's Bret Dixon, who boiled SOA progress down into four distinct categories in a matrix, defined by complexity on one axis, measured against level of business commitment on the other axis.

At the lower end of the evolutionary scale, companies with low complexity and little business commitment are likely to have "process projects" underway. "In this quadrant, there is no CIO-driven plan for rolling out SOA or managing it's use. Further the business has very little engagement in SOA. If this is where you're at, you're probably going to have to introduce SOA from the grassroots, even employing a skunkworks. The key is to identify a service with an opportunity for reuse and then design it, build it, and prove it out. Pick carefully–the goal is to show what SOA can do and convince the skeptics."

The polar opposite of these under-the-radar efforts is the "mega-projects," Windley relates. "These kinds of projects don't happen very often and requires big budgets," he notes, adding that these are probably undesirable anyway. "I don't think you need mega projects and in fact, I don't think a mature IT organization would want to do them in any event."

Dave Linthicum also has been blogging on the conference, observing that "after a year or two of trying to figure out SOA, people are much more sophisticated about the approaches and technologies. They are not looking for quick fixes, but practical ways to make this stuff work." He adds that even the "vendors are happy." (ka-ching!)

The observations coming out of this event, along with events I've attended recently, point to a very bullish and buoyant market and serious push to achieve service-oriented architecture. The mood is one of optimism, not of gloom and retrenchment, as it was earlier in the decade. (Even in the late 1990s with Y2K.) We're clearly entering a new phase of re-examination of the way our systems interact with business processes. As Dave puts it: "This is a fun and exciting space right now, this conference did a good job of pumping me up, again. I think the technology is growing, and the professionals in this area are first rate."

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