Modern SOA governance: Adoption and measurement

Recent discussions have brought attention to the important and evolving role of governance in the world of service-oriented architecture (SOA). These issues are highly relevant to anyone who wants to understand deeper levels of social computing.

Recent discussions have brought attention to the important and evolving role of governance in the world of service-oriented architecture (SOA).

"Modern conceptions of SOA governance," to borrow a phrase from SOA expert, Dion Hinchcliffe, recognize that technical architecture is only one component of successful adoption. Achieving deeper success involves bringing technology deployment into conformity with business needs.

Governance is critical to successful SOA adoption. For this reason, I brought together Dion and Software AG’s Vice President and Chief Strategist, Miko Matsumura, for a podcast discussion on this topic. Together, the three of us explored interconnections between SOA, technology, business, and trust.

Governance is essential because a centralized, big brother attitude toward technology deployment rapidly becomes impractical in the SOA world. Instead, success relies on allowing decentralized service development within the confines of agreed-upon rules. This rapidly becomes a social and organizational problem that goes beyond technology alone.

By combining decentralized control over services with shared definitions, an organization's overall SOA architecture can reflect the best of several worlds. Shared governance ensures that the SOA technical architecture functions as designed -- services work as planned, inter-operate, and maintain consistent design across the organization. This allows business departments to function as a coherent, federated unit with built-in information sharing and cooperation.

Technical cooperation does not exist in a vacuum and relies on people working together. During a recent analyst session conducted as part of Dana Gardner's Briefings Direct series, Ron Schmelzer, managing partner at ZapThink commented:

[C]ompanies really need to manage their people, their governance, and their organization much more than they need to worry about buying the right tools.

The challenge of SOA governance thus becomes adding the human dimension to technical cooperation. Modern SOA governance relies on an organization's ability to gather information along business dimensions that are relevant to the SOA initiative.

Since SOA embodies business information processes in departments across an organization, gaining agreement on goals, standards, and interfaces is a key ingredient for success. SOA governance must therefore reflect organizational and cultural dimensions that intersect and impact technical SOA deployment.

About the podcast. In the recorded discussion, Miko raises fundamental questions pertaining to the interplay between technology and user adoption, raising a central challenge for SOA governance:

As you start to enforce governance policies and rules, how does the community respond and how do you dynamically monitor their behavior, because this transitional period is the one of greatest risk. I call this the "danger zone" in my book, SOA Adoption for Dummies....

SOA adoption is dynamic. The computer parts are frankly deterministic but behavior is situational and sensitive.

Dion's response amplifies this challenge, highlighting a weak point in many SOA adoption efforts:

How do we directly engage the stakeholders in that process, in that trust framework, and then detect and understand what's actually happening in terms of getting ground truth on both governance and actual SOA adoption.

Miko summarizes:

It's a lot less about SOA, which is an architecture, and much more about SOA adoption, which is the behavioral pattern in an enterprise.

My take. This podcast makes clear that enterprise technology does not exist in a vacuum separate from the business and organizational environment. These issues are highly relevant to anyone who wants to understand deeper levels of social computing.

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