Cloud, APIs, digital, whatever... it's all service oriented architecture

SOA is a philosophy (not a technology) that has shaped every key technology initiative we pursue today.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Maybe it's an issue of semantics, maybe it's the vendor hype cycle, maybe it's a realignment in thinking.  Or maybe all of the above. Whatever the case, the notion that "service oriented architecture" is so... 2009... and now enterprises have moved onto APIs, cloud, mobile, and RESTful interfaces is missing a big point. That is, service oriented architecture is the foundational IT initiative in most enterprises, whether it's called that or not.

Cloud computing at keyboard 2 Photo by Joe McKendrick
Photo: Joe McKendrick

So why does this matter? Because the hard work that went into SOA over the past decade paved the way to all the incredible technology options we have today. The spread of the SOA philosophy (that's what it is -- not a technology fix) helped people -- enterprise leaders and vendors alike -- recognize that monolithic or complex systems could be opened up as composable, reusable, sharable services, and these services can be extended or offered across organizational boundaries. SOA also liberated business processes from underlying technology -- a well-functioning, technology-enabled business could continue to be well functioning, regardless of the particular hardware or software running down in the engine room.

Fellow ZDNet contributor Dion Hinchcliffe put it very nicely a few years back: that the whole world was becoming a global service oriented architecture. And his prediction has come to pass. Dion even pointed out back in 2009 that SOA and Open APIs were "close cousins."

Another ahead-of-his-time thinker, Forrester's Randy Heffner, points out in a recent post, based on his experiences as IBM's latest Impact conference, that SOA is still the driving force behind the gradually deconstructing enterprise.  Too often these days, there's an assumption that today's IT initiatives are all about APIs. This may be true, but it takes SOA to successfully deploy or consume APIs.

Randy makes the following observations, based on discussions with enterprise IT leaders:

  • "We saw the value in SOA." Especially for many of today's must-do business projects, from multichannel customer engagement to faster time-to-market.
  • "We slowly built SOA steam by delivering value from one project to the next." Successful SOA wasn't an overnight big-bang project, but a philosophy that gradually gained buy-in across the enterprise.
  • "We realized early on that SOA needs a business approach." It's about the business, always.
  •  "We’ve learned a lot and built-up some important SOA best practices." A decade of learning and hard-won experience at this point. All lesson that can be applied to APIs, cloud, mobile, big data, and digital everything.
  • "We still have struggles and there are ways we need to improve." We've learned a lot, and the learning continues.  
  • "It’s onward and ahead with SOA to greater maturity and more business value." Forrester's surveys always showed high levels of satisfaction with SOA progress, Randy points out.
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