Automatic SOA: embedding service orientation into 'muscle memory'

It just runs automatically -- reaching 'weightless' SOA
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

What, exactly, should an organization that is getting it right with service oriented architecture look like? How do we know when we reached optimum service orientation?

I recently put this question to Software AG's Miko Matsumura and Jignesh Shah, authors of SOA Adoption for Dummies, in a recent Webcast on achieving high velocity with SOA. (Access to Webinar here, full transcript here.)

The ultimate success point of SOA, they said, is when organizations no longer really even think about doing SOA. It's just second nature.

So, to put it in extremely simple terms, when we ride bicycles, we're not obsessing how we need to keep our balance, and keep from wobbling, and keep pressing on the forward pedal to attain speed. We worried about that when we first learned, but now it's baked into our consciousness, and we worry about other things -- like avoiding that tractor trailer edging too close to the edge of the roadway where we're riding.

Miko, originally a neuroscientist by training, brought up an interesting term for this phenomenon, a state called "muscle memory," wherein the methods and know-how are baked into everyday performance.  "It's just how you do business… like a championship sports team, in which everybody knows the playbook in their muscle memory," he says.

Miko and Jignesh actually applied a space flight analogy for their book, and tagged this optimum state as "SOA weightlessness." Jignish noted that that "at this stage, you would not be worrying about SOA as this special thing you have to care for...  Over time, it simply becomes second nature, where that is the way systems are built…  Everyone understands how to build things in a way that are reusable, and thinking in a more granular level, or less granular level in some cases… And you now have accountability spread throughout the enterprise."

Miko, who is great with analogies, added another one to think about: you are very concerned about architecture before and while you are building your house, but don't have to think about it as much once you are living in it. "By the time you’re actually living in the house, you're pretty much not thinking about the architecture of the house -- you're running your business, day to day, all the benefits are there for you."

Ultimately, that's the goal of a well-functioning SOA.

Back to the space flight analogies.... As we have seen with the NASA space program, technology and technology management are about 10% of the reason for success. The other 90% comes from leadership and motivation.

Miko said that SOA's current problems stem from the fact that much of it may be relegated to technical management concerns. That helps in building elegant and well-functioning service-oriented-based processes, but it doesn;t inspire the business to do more with it.

Miko pointed out that the United States landed people on the moon in 1969 not just because NASA was a well-managed operation. The drive for the moon, accomplished within eight years, was the result of leadership, starting with President John Kennedy's pronouncement in 1961. "This statement is a leadership statement...  ...so it's interesting to see how the leader can really harness a really large group of people into a common goal and common mission."

Of course, he adds, "what we're not necessarily saying is SOA has to be as ambitious, complex and expensive [as the space program], but certainly there's a couple of things you can draw from the analogy side."

Jignesh points out that the people leading many SOA efforts come from the integration side of the house. "Integration tends to be a top use case for SOA," he says, adding that he's also seeing companies appoint an SOA champion or even an SOA czar.

Miko and Jignesh spoke of gunning SOA efforts at the start to reach "escape velocity" and eventually "weightlessness."  What is this point of weightlessness? It's where SOA is thoroughly baked into the organization, to the point where it's automatic, or second nature, Miko and Jignesh say.

As the SOA "rocket" climbs and reaches escape velocity, what's fueling it? Miko says motivation is the fuel that keeps the effort moving upward. Where does this motivation come from?  Along with leadership, there needs to be ongoing tracking and measurement of the progress SOA is delivering:

"I think for us the fuel is less budgetary and more motivational. ...what we're really talking about is sort of 'crossing of the danger zone.' There's this initial phase, where this thing has been launched, but there hasn't been major business traction. You're just growing it, and getting people across that -- not a big-bang budget proposal. There needs to be a way to ignite and sustain the kind of motivational energy."

The way to keep the fires going is by showing the business results along the way. "Things like appropriate measurement and appropriate reporting can really help to continue to feed and fuel the initial success, and turn it into sustained success," Miko says.

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