Michael Liebow, vice president of Web services and SOA at IBM Global Services, writes that the thick walls separating IT departments from business leaders are crumbling. He gives the usual spiel about how IT is the lynchpin for transforming enterprises into on demand businesses (the canonical IBM Global Services sales pitch), and then identifies top tier companies that have created "board-level panels with tech-savvy directors to oversee new technology projects as well as ease compliance and governance issues surrounding new technology." If you are spending tens of millions to overhaul business infrastructure, it certainly makes sense to have qualified board-level people paying attention to how the money is spent.
He makes an analogy to the construction industry, which has standardized processes, such as blueprints and generally accepted practices, and layers of governance that reduce the potential for problematic or failed projects. He then goes on to applying the notion of blueprints and tech-savvy boards to SOA projects, assembling discrete components within a standardized framework.
Liebow concludes: "IT leaders and business leaders must work together, share plans and have common goals. Cracks in the walls need to burst into holes and eventually the walls must crumble completely and company boards of directors will help to lead the fix."
He's really talking about two issues. One is the notion that the disconnect between IT and business executives leads to misery. We've been talking about that fissure for decades. The two don't speak the same language and a lot gets lost in the translation. Many of the most successful companies figured out a long time ago that bridging the gap is a competitive advantage (FedEx, Wal-Mart and in modern times Amazon, Yahoo, for example). Perhaps the 21st century focus on corporate governance and tech savvy boards will help close the gap. You can't be competitive or responsible to stakeholders if the spend on technology is inefficient and doesn't deliver value, such as shortening product cycles or lowering cost of goods.
Secondly, Liebow seems to be talking about the potential of SOA to reduce some of the risk in building business solutions. Standardized software infrastructure, such as Web services, model-driven programming and friendly business process management tools, can help over time to alleviate some of the complexity in IT projects. But, getting IT projects to work more like the construction industry with plug-and-play standards for the nuts and bolts of building is still a long way off.