Beware the 'Facebook Effect' when service-orienting information technology

Beware the 'Facebook Effect' when service-orienting information technology

Summary: Experiences seen with Facebook provide a fair warning to shared-service providers in enterprises.


JP Morgenthal, who has been pouring healthy doses of reality checks into the SOA zeitgeist for a number of years now, says he has been seeing the beginnings of a disturbing trend as of late: developers and users alike stuck with an irretractable service, in which interfaces and other services have grown deep roots.

JP calls this the "Facebook Effect." Essentially, while comparable or better alternatives may exist for various services on the online market, "Facebook, as a service, is seemingly entrenched to a point where it cannot be unseated." The net result, as JP puts it:

"The user has invested in customizing the service to a point where it is extremely painful to recreate in a completely separate service."

As the service foundation within an enterprise matures and gains traction, "users will start to invest their time in building connections with and automating their processes around the service. This will greatly limit enterprise IT’s ability to arbitrarily change the service in a way that impacts the user."

Building a highly adaptable shared-service layer -- in which any and all interfaces and services can be swapped out on a moment's notice -- has always been the ultimate ideal of SOA. Of course, most organizations, saddled with various vendors' platforms and legacy and post-legacy systems, aren't there yet. And, as outside-the-firewall cloud-based services get mixed into the equation, lock-in -- be it with a vendor or with a particular class of services -- becomes even more of an issue. Many cloud engagements, in fact, may be easy to get into, but incredibly messy and expensive to back out of.

With most Facebook apps, it's just an inconvenience for the consumer to make a switch, with no real money lost. With critical business processes hooked to one service or another, it's a different story. That's why good enterprise architecture and planning really make a difference.

Topics: Social Enterprise, CXO

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  • Isn't that the nature of SOA?

    If I sign up for Google Docs, they have my data. If I decide I want to switch to Office365 after a year, then it has to be worth the time to download a year's worth of documents from Google and re-upload them to Microsoft. Lather, rinse, repeat for whatever cloud vendor you're dealing with.

    Then again, this has always been the case, even without cloud services in the way. While Office/OOo/WordPerfect/Whoever have been alright-ish at cross-compatibility, as have been Photoshop and its clones and AutoCAD and its peers, going between Peachtree and Quickbooks is an exercise in patience-at-best, assuming there's some variant of a CSV export. Once you get really specialized stuff like medical imaging, high level document storage, and complex database structures, moving data between products becomes a lot less practical, if at all possible.

  • I dont buy it.

    ...."Building a highly adaptable shared-service layer in which any and all interfaces and services can be swapped out on a moments notice has always been the ultimate ideal of SOA."

    The above statement is perhaps the premise behind this article but it is wrong in my humble opinion. The highly adaptable layer and agility of SOA is NOT based on swapping services on a moments notice but it is based on composing and orchestrating new services from existing ones. SOA is about bringing value to the business and not necessarily to IT. IT can gain some conveniences from SOA and loosely-coupled services which allows them to change properties of the backend (database, hardware, locations, etc) while keeping the same front-end contract and interface for the customers which can translate to zero impact for the business in term of interruptions. However, the value of SOA is on how it helps the business.

    I do not buy this notion that critical business processes hooked to one service or another would make it hard for users to change to another better service quickly. There is no such thing as "irretractable service" just costs for migrating to a better one. If consumers find a much better service is actually a good thing too and the cost of migrating is typical tiny when compared to the value the new service brings to them. I would switch to a better Facebook service in a blink if the new service brings much better value to me. The real point is that SOA can bring competing services to the landscape which is a good thing for the business and not something we should all be worried about.