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Four reasons to embrace service-oriented thinking in 2011

Service-oriented thinking has matured, and will be a key to business growth in the emerging economy.

Happy New Year, everyone.  Another year wraps up, and we now enter a new decade (which technically begins January 1, 2011).

The practice of service oriented architecture has been part of the business technology scene for close to a decade. Some may argue that SOA has been around a lot longer than that, but SOA as we know it today -- the development and deployment of loosely coupled, orchestrated, cross or intra-enterprise services (mainly Web services) to fulfill business processes -- was first discussed in the mid 1990s, and came to fruition starting about 2003-2004.

Through this time, there has been no shortage of confusion in the market what it means to be "service oriented." Frequently, comments posted here at this blogsite call for better and clearer definitions of SOA, service orientation, and all else.

For a great reference source of SOA-related definitions, see Don Fornes' "Plain English Guide" to SOA.  By the way, I like Don's definition of SOA itself: "A new and better way to get a bunch of different software programs to work together so people can do things that require information from each of those systems."

As for the business purpose of SOA, here are some thinking points to consider:

SOA is a "mutual" exercise for the business: Perhaps the best analogy for the way SOA should be governed is that of a mutual insurance company, in which the members are the company’s “owners” who play a role in electing company management. With SOA, every department should be the “owner” of the initiative, and play a role in the governance committee or team that oversees deployment decisions. The IT department should be but one player in the SOA scenario, and should serve as the “administrative” arm of the SOA infrastructure. Another analogy I've used over the years is that of a condo or homeowner's association, in which everyone is an owner, but grants some oversight to a central governance board to oversee common services, such as maintenance and trash hauling.  Again, IT is one of the "owners," and also is contracted to oversee administration of the services. The perception that SOA is an “IT thing,” or that it should be controlled and managed by IT, has hampered the progression of service orientation in many companies.

Service orientation can't "die": Many people misinterpreted Ann Thomas Manes' proclamation from two years ago that the SOA paradigm is dead. Ann herself is a great believer in service oriented architecture and believes it will, or should, be part of all software projects.  I like how Loraine Lawson invoked Monty Python in her recent observation -- "I'm Not Dead Yet, Contends SOA.” Once a service oriented architecture effort is underway, it will reshape the way business and IT interact with technology. And if not SOA, then what?  The whole world -- both inside and outside enterprise walls -- is moving to interlocking services to deliver technology capabilities. Again, if not SOA, what?

Service oriented architecture is meant to change: The values and principles outlined in the SOA Manifesto say it best: SOA is not beholden to any underlying technologies or even any particular standards; it is meant to help enterprises enhance collaboration and apply technology where it is needed to drive greater business value. Service oriented thinking shouldn't even be limited to technology. As Deloitte has recently been saying, business leaders themselves should be engaged in "services thinking" -- based on service oriented principles -- in the way they manage and move their companies forward.

SOA adapts to economic realities: This has been proven in recent times.  When businesses are in growth mode, service orientated thinking helps ease the issues with slamming separate systems together during mergers and acquisitions. When times get tough, SOA-based thinking helps streamline operations. In 2010, and through 2011, businesses have come out of the storm shelters and are gearing up for growth, which won't be easy in hyper-competitive global markets. Service-oriented thinking will increase the adaptability required to gain a competitive edge.