The problem with service oriented architecture is that people have been thinking about it too narrowly. Randy Heffner, VP and analyst with Forrester Research, says all too often, SOA has tended to be pigeonholed "as a technology, the next thing in line after objects, and components; and all about reuse and just about connecting between applications on the wire.
View SOA from a business design, not technology perspective
"These are all very small ways to view SOA," he feels. "What's much more important is to view it from a design perspective."
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Randy in a podcast (MP3 link here) hosted over at ebizQ site. Among other things, Randy talked about a report Forrester issued last spring in the wake of Anne Thomas Manes' "SOA is Dead" proclamation -- titled, appropriately enough, "SOA is Far From Dead, But It Should Be Buried."
What struck me was the fact that once an organization gets going with SOA, it will tend to stick with it for the long haul. In fact, as Forrester's statistics bear out, only a minute fraction will give up and walk away from SOA altogether. "There's a group of folks that struggle, but most importantly, there's only about one percent of SOA users who say, it's provided little or no benefit and we're cutting back," Randy says.
In fact, Forrester's study uncovered deep and wide support for SOA, Randy says. "The data shows that SOA is very much alive and well and very much adding value," he explains. "Not perfectly in the sense that there are still folks that struggle, because SOA is not an easy thing. But I think a lot of the struggling with SOA comes from ...is some of the misguided ways that people view SOA." As noted above, the misguided thinking is too-narrow thinking about what SOA can accomplish.
"By the end of this year, 75% of the global 2000, that's folks with 20,000 or more employees, say that they'll be using SOA," Randy continues. "When we asked, 'Are you satisfied?' roughly 25% says that SOA has provided most or all of the benefits that they expected. There's another 30 to 40% that said, 'It's provided less than we expected, but still enough benefit that we're expanding our use of SOA.'"
What do the 25% moving full force into SOA have in common? "They're treating SOA as a business-design concept," Randy says. "That sets a whole different perspective on how you view the kinds of services that you're building, the methods that you put around it."
An element of the business-design view of SOA that doesn't get enough attention, Randy feels, is service portfolio management, which is an important piece of governance. "A lot of folks say 'SOA is all about a service library, just let projects create what services they need to, and drop them in a library, and then people can search, discover something that's there that they might be able to use.' Well, that's a very haphazard kind of way to go about your business."
Instead, approaching SOA through service portfolio management emphasizes services created to address business capabilities. "You know what business you're in. You should be creating a coherent portfolio of business capabilities that are embodied in your SOA services. And, hence, service portfolio management is a much stronger approach to building a collection of services than a service library approach."