Maybe the recession was the best thing that ever happened to SOA

Business-driven SOA 'is an obvious thing to say, but it's a very difficult thing to achieve'

When the economic downturn first began to erode IT budgets back in late 2007 and early 2008, there were fears that service oriented architecture projects would be the first thing on the chopping block. These fears were justified.

Business-driven SOA: 'obvious to say, difficult to achieve'

Businesses need to whittle down their expenditures to the things that have the greatest impact on growth and sustainability; many SOA projects were mired in optimizing technology more than optimizing business. Hence, Anne Thomas Manes' declaration last year that SOA was on the skids. When SOA first hit the enterprise mainstream a few years back, most shops focused heavily on the technical aspects of standards, tools, and making it work.

However, the recent recession may have knocked some sense into companies and SOA proponents, with the recognition that successful SOA needs to be tied as closely as possible to the business. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Steve Ross-Talbot, a co-author of the SOA Manifesto, and principal with Cognizant, an IT consulting firm. Steve discussed about why business value is so important to service oriented architecture. (Listen to the podcast here; full transcript of our discussion available here.)

Steve has been working with numerous companies implementing SOA, and finds a common malady that consistently pops up in projects: the technical requirements overwhelm the business needs. Steve reports he often walks into projects where technical thinking reigns.

He illustrates a situation with one large client, which is involved in a workflow management  project. "The only way of getting this right is to ensure that the service layer is subservient to the business value that those other workstreams have to deliver."  This should be the primary task of the enterprise architect -- to make sure the business needs are top priority, he adds, noting that "it's an obvious thing to say, but it's a very difficult thing to achieve."

The recent economic downturn really helped to gel SOA thinking around the direct business requirements expected to be delivered. "If you look perhaps four or five years ago, the beginning of this sort of SOA genre, people were going down the SOA route without any sort of view of business value at all," Steve observes. "And as the economy fell into -- I think got more difficult to get budget, people started to look more at business value in general."

Of course, even the rotten economy still didn't shake the techno-focus on SOA, Steve observes. "It's quite common for me to go into customer sites and for people to ask, 'how do I sell SOA?' And of course, you can't because you can't buy it. And so it always comes back to well, you have to have the business focus...  it's kind of a techno-economic piece of engineering in order to sequence things correctly so that business value gets delivered, and budget gets relief to do the next phase. And as a result, you start go build up a better way of managing reuse and handling change, and all of the other value statements then coming to their own. But this one drives everything for me."

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