Book: the business of SOA is... business

Now, an SOA book for the rest of the business.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

I caught up with ZapThink's Ron Schmelzer last week, who has just co-authored a new book (with colleague Jason Bloomberg) entitled Service Orient or Be Doomed! I offered to help him get it on the Oprah book club list, but he said he would have to get back to me on that.Service Orient or Be Doomed!

Interestingly, the title, Service Oriented or Be Doomed! is very non-IT-ish, which means it will probably catch the eyes of non-IT readers, who may expect a general business-oriented book on service delivery. This is apparently by design  -- to an extent, the book is about business service delivery and transformation. But at its heart, the book's theme is unquestionably about better business through technology.

I'm not quite sure what "doom" awaits by not service orienting, other than remaining mired in archiac, calcified and siloed processes -- which a lot of businesses do anyway, and still manage to stay afloat. But that's the topic for another posting.

The book flows as a non-technical tutorial for business readers that may be wondering what all the SOA fuss is all about. But the theme keeps snapping back to information technology. As Ron and Jason put it, "today, much of the effort falls within IT, because that is where the biggest problems lie." And what are these problems? One is that our IT systems have evolved into tangled "rat's nests" of networks, processes, and devices. (I personally prefer the term "spaghetti architecture," it's a little more appetizing).

Beyond this tangle, however, is an even larger issue, they said. IT has always been regarded as a cost center, serving a tactical role. Even when things did evolve to where IT made competitive new business models possible -- such as Websites and e-commerce -- the differentiation was quickly lost, because every company could build such capabilities. With an SOA focus, IT can play a role in more strategic business endeavors.  For example, a telecom company may offer consumers that ability to pick and choose their own bundles of services.

The authors add, however, that "the true promise of service orientation is on the business side. Previous business transformation efforts have largely fallen short due to limitations of technology; today IT is finally reaching the level of maturity where it is possible to build truly agile organizations."

Ron and Jason admit, however, that the "Business Web" that makes service-oriented agility across many domains is "still mostly science fiction." Nonetheless, they add, "that doesn't mean that you can't create a few business Webs of your own." Move to service-orient your business processes and systems. Then, they advise, "work with business partners, customers, and suppliers as they service-orient their companies to build your own business Web."

In the book, the authors also hit very succinctly at what they call the "secret sauce" of SOA, which is loose coupling. They very nicely describe the concept as akin to making every interaction with and between IT systems as easy as surfing the Web.  "What if any step in any business process could take advantage of loose coupling to the point that not only human-to-computer interactions had it this easy, forgiving nature, but computer-to-computer interactions did as well?  That's the power behind service orientation."

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