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Is SOA maturing, or is the economy just better?

A new survey out of Capgemini finds that some companies, particularly larger ones that use SAP, may be thinking nextgen SOA for business agility, more so than IT cost cutting.

In a recent post, I quoted Richard Veryard, who talked about the next generation of SOA, predicting that SOA will break out of the IT box, and move from delivering internal IT benefits to facilitating improved business transformation and improved customer experience. (This was Veryard's original idea for "SOA 2.0," coined last fall, but let's not use that term, since another variation of it has been getting the stuffing kicked out of it lately.)

The survey of larger enterprises says business agility, more so than IT cost cutting, is now seen as the main reason for adopting SOA.

A new survey out of Capgemini finds that some companies, particularly larger ones that use SAP, may be thinking nextgen SOA at this point. Business agility, more so than IT cost cutting, was seen as the main reason for adopting SOA among executives 1,000 of these enterprises surveyed at the recent SAP Sapphire Orlando and SAP Sapphire Paris events.

What's unclear is how much of this shift in thinking about SOA, at least at the large enterprise levels (i.e., the SAPers), is the result of an improved economy, versus a maturing of SOA methodologies and offerings. 

When Web services and SOA first emerged on the scene, we were mired in one of the most draining IT recessions yet. In the first few years of this decade (we haven't figured out what to call this decade yet, by the way), everyone had tightened their IT budgets and put "transformational" projects on hold.  Any new IT initiatives -- or ones kept alive -- were meant to deliver tangible cost savings to the business. That was the entree for Web services and SOA as well, which promised standardized interfaces for faster and cheaper integration, as well as reuse of services to avoid paying developers to reinvent the wheel.

It's a very natural cycle; in tough times, it's about cost cutting. In good times, it's about growing the business. In good times, we're more willing to take risks on new things.

Perhaps the frugal, cost-saving side of SOA isn't as good a sale anymore, as companies don't mind spending a bit more now if it means more growth opportunities down the road. According to Capgemini:

"Organizations are recognizing that SOA can improve both the top and bottom lines. A similar survey conducted at Oracle OpenWorld last year, showed that organizations overwhelmingly (40%) believed the number-one benefit of SOA would be cost reductions. This year, respondents have learned to innovate with SOA, with a majority (54%) indicating they now believe the top benefit they will attain from SOA will be increased flexibility to the business. The perception of SOA has evolved from a technology advancement to a transformational approach that can improve an organization’s business model."

The new survey also finds that 26% see SOA as the way to lower software integration costs and 15% expect better alignment of IT and business goals (whatever that means).

Capgemini also found that organizations will, on average, increase the percentage of applications run on SOA by 20% over the next three years. However, the survey also finds that more than a third of the respondents (35%) admit that they do not fully understand the concepts of SOA.

As Gartner said the other week, SOA-related spending is up, topping the $8.5 billion mark in the last year. Gartner also expressed concern that SOA -- expressed as "reducing complexity" -- was a tough sell to management. And, as I just opined in my last post, SOA calls for cross-enterprise funding, not strict ROI calculations, which is not an easy sell.

So, it appears that the money for SOA projects is now there. And decision-makers genuinely want to know how they can leverage SOA-driven technologies to grow their businesses. But three things are still needed -- education, more education, and governance. A good high-level governance strategy (meaning some type of executive committee, or at least an executive champion) can marshal and direct the political will and resources of the enterprise to get moving on SOA projects. Let's get it started.