Which will kill SOA fastest: no money or no skills?

Double trouble for SOA in 2008?

Which one of the following will kill SOA projects faster this year?

Lack of money, or

Lack of skills?

Two separate articles out this week talk about double-trouble for SOA in 2008.

Anne Thomas Manes, analyst with Burton Group, is warning that a potential downturn in the economy could pull the rug out from under many SOA projects. According to a report in SearchSOA, Anne warned that "You're going to see budgets shrink. You're going to be asked to do more with less. One of the most dangerous things is we're going to see funding for major initiatives evaporate." In addition to corporate budget cuts, there will be other pressures on IT, such as as globalization, outsourcing and auditing required by new federal government regulations. (Which will usurp talent away from SOA efforts.)

Economists are divided as to whether an actual recession is coming, or if we're in for a period of slower growth. But, as I've mentioned in previous posts, IT budgets have been mean and lean for years, so IT managers already know how to get around any further tightening, if the economy were to soften. Efficiencies are already being built into most IT operations, via automation, virtualization, open source, SaaS, and, last but certainly not least, reuse and streamlining through service orientation.

IBM's Sandy Carter sees a different kind of threat on the horizon, however -- there aren't enough people with the right skills to see SOA projects through. IBM recently released the results of its survey of Fortune 1000 executives conducted at last year's Impact event, and found skills to be wanting. “We’ve definitely found from our customers there is a shortage of SOA skills across the board, not just in IT,” she is quoted as saying. “The SOA skills shortage is really across the entire SOA lifecycle, and includes architects, business, risk management and other professionals that can help companies apply SOA to transforming their business.”

If there is a downturn in IT budgets, at least these SOA professionals will have high value to the business, and thus some job security.

So when you put these two worries -- budget cuts and skills shortages -- together, you get some very busy and overstressed IT shops. We may find that IT and SOA professionals will continue to be asked to do more and more with less and less, without additional staff resources. (To greatly paraphrase Winston Churchill, never before have so few been asked to do so much.)

As a result, we will see an ongoing juggling act (with more knives and torches thrown in), and some projects will get dropped to the floor. Some SOA projects -- even those that don't cost too much -- may simply be relegated to the bottom of the priority list because of lack of time, and lack of perceived urgency. But this inability to adequately staff and fund SOA projects is something we'd see even in a booming economy.

Whether you're facing the budget axe, or you can't find people who know SOA, the solution is the same. If your budget is under threat of being pared, Anne recommends downshifting SOA to small, incremental steps -- "think big, take small steps" is Burton's mantra.

IBM's approach to managing SOA when there aren't enough skilled people around is almost identical: "You don’t start to try with a huge project. You start with a small project," Sandy says. "But we also tell them, ‘Start with a big vision. Set a vision that is larger and broader than the scope of the project you chose.'"

Think globally, act locally in SOA -- great advice no matter what the state of the overall economy.

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