Are SOA-related business concerns outside the IT 'comfort zone'?

When the subject of SOA business value came up, the room went quiet

Those folks at Burton Group really know how to rattle our cages. A few weeks back, Anne Thomas Manes declared that she has yet to see any solid SOA success stories, and reportedly is still looking for one.

When the subject of SOA business value came up, the room went quiet

Now, Burton analyst Chris Haddad is questioning whether the issue of business value is something that IT managers and professionals can fully wrap their heads around. Chris observed that at a recent confab in Boston, attendees were quite "animated" and lively while the discussions focused on more technical topics such as Enterprise Service Buses and SOA security strategies.

But perhaps those topics took place during the morning sessions, and after a nice full lunch, as the focus moved to SOA business drivers, the energy level seemed to drop. As Chris put it:

When "presented a list of activities and metrics that can be used to solve perennial questions that block SOA initiatives; 'How do I sell SOA to the business?' and 'What is the business benefit of SOA?' The audience was quiet when the discussion focused on how to measure business value. When the conversation segued into activities that can be used define linkages between business capabilities, application assets, and services, we found few organizations prepared to start strategic projects."

Chris speculated that "maybe we are asking technologists to come out of their comfort zone and span business and technology layers." He speculates that perhaps "IT teams are too busy fulfilling their standard job descriptions," and that while technologists are concerned with business value, they may not know where to begin.

Hmm. While SOA indeed has long-term implications for the business, and therefore should be owned by the business, IT will still be carrying the water for SOA, at least for the foreseeable future. Survey after survey I have either conducted or reviewed shows that SOA clearly remains an "IT thing." But should it be? Of course not — SOA needs to be owned by the entire organization. But at least for now, IT is doing all the heavy lifting, while the rest of the business looks on with curiosity.

In speeches and writings here, I’ve often compared ideal-world SOA to a condominium association, in which everyone is an owner, but agrees to chip in for common services (such as trash collection), abide by common rules and policies (no cars on cinder blocks in the parking lot), and appoint a management oversight committee to keep things running. IT is one of the owners, but because they know a lot about maintenance and repairs and plumbing, also handle that end of the association.

Nevertheless, a few months back, Paul Kiel made some very astute observations about why it may be difficult for IT to become business advocates for SOA. First and foremost, IT departments are simply too consumed with day-to-day tasks and ongoing maintenance. During the post-dot-bomb slowdown earlier in the decade, many IT departments were gutted our outsourced. As things improved, new projects and responsibilities have been piled on IT managers, but not as much in new budget or staffing resources. “Here, do these 10 extra things, start generating more reports to help us with Sarbanes-Oxley, but we’re not going to give you more budget.”

As Paul puts it: “They are either understaffed or overcommitted to current, immediate concerns. In short, its hard to think about a better house when the one you have is on fire. The only progress that can be made here is baby steps at best.” Paul also points out that IT folks are jaded from all the various technology fads and pitches that have morphed through the market over the years. They see SOA as “just another rearchitecting.”

I also have speculated within this blogsite as to whether the promised deliverables of SOA -- increased business agility and transformation -- are beyond the scope of IT department mandates, training, and capabilities. Vendors and analysts alike seem to expect IT managers to go out and turn their corporations upside down. While they certainly can be the catalyst for such transformations, it's going to take a lot of help from both C-level types and the grassroots.