In a down economy, expect subprime SOAs to suffer

Companies with subprime SOAs will be more likely to cut than try to increase SOA value

If the economy languishes as media pundits say it will, we may see a story of two SOAs. Those that are making a difference to the business and will continue to do so, and those that I'll classify as 'subprime SOAs' that will quickly have their oxygen cut off if their organizations feel a financial pinch.

There's been plenty of speculation in recent months as to whether the IT sector can hold up through any economic downturn. The consensus I've been hearing is that this is not 2001, with the dot-com bust leaving tech companies with huge overhangs of inventory, and companies tapped out from years of Y2K-related spending. Companies came out of that period with lean and mean IT spending, which remains to this day -- and thus there will not likely be huge cutbacks in this sector. (In fact, recent research from the National Association of Computer Consultant Businesses (NACCB), finds no evidence of slowdown in IT staffing, which is at "an all-time high.")

But there are plenty of opposing views on how SOA projects would fare through a general downturn. I recently spoke with ZapThink's Ron Schmelzer, who has been sounding the alarm for some time -- not about a downturn, but about a shortage of skills available to build and manage SOAs.

Would SOA prevail during a lousy economy? Ron expects a mixed picture to develop: those companies that aren't doing too well with SOA will likely not see the value in these efforts and cut back, while those that are well supported and well-tuned to the business are likely to see continued growth, no matter what economic storms rage outside.

And, as Ron puts it, the support and success an SOA will receive will depend a lot on "where a company stands on the crossing-the-chasm curve. If they’re late maturity and laggards, and they're cutting back, then they’re not going to pioneer in architecture." In other words, forget SOA, just keep firefighting and doing maintenance-type things. (Ironically, as I've said before on this blogsite, these are the companies that need SOA the most.)

More forward-thinking companies will see any slow period as an opportunity for SOA, Ron says:

"If they’re smart companies that are ahead of the curve, early innovators, then they 'll see a downturn as a good opportunity to move forward with SOA. While other people are going to cut back, we can drive ourselves further ahead without having to spend more. I think those organizations are going to accelerate their SOA efforts."

Down economy or not, it's a great time to invest in architecture, Ron says, "because investing in architecture means economies of scale, reduction in redundancy, increase in reuse, increase in visibility. We’re not talking about buying a $10-million CRM package, we’re talking about making an investment in yourself; this is the best time to do it."

Ron and ZapThink colleagues Jason Bloomberg and Dave Linthicum will be talking about these and other issues at a series of industry-focused workshops over the coming month, in Newark, London, and Las Vegas.