Is SOA too much for the IT department?

Most IT shops are ill-equipped and not properly organized to lead an SOA transformation across their businesses.

Are vendors asking IT to carry too much of a load when it comes to selling the business benefits of SOA?

If SOA is about the business, why hasn't it ever been mentioned in Fortune magazine?

The catch-phrase of SOA these days -- coming out of every conference venue, every trade publication or Website, and every vendor channel -- is that "SOA is good for the business." But these messages aren't being targeted at CEOs or CFOs -- they're being targeted at IT managers. I have yet to see any mention of service-oriented architecture in Fortune magazine. 

One recent survey report sums it up this way: "Most department heads in banks have never heard of SOA." 

Yet, we preach endlessly to the IT crowd that it's time to get on board and transform their entire businesses, as if they have just been handed the keys to turn their enterprises into the path of righteousness. But those keys remain firmly in the CEO's hands. Then we scratch our heads when we see studies that show no appreciable business payback for ROI efforts in SOA. 

As discussed in a post at this blogsite a couple of months ago, many IT executives simply do not have the resources or political clout to get SOA moving in a big way that will transform the business. It's not that they don't want to; it's just too much to take on. Many have the perception, rightly or wrongly, that SOA requires a major overhaul of their IT infrastructure and processes, versus a gradual introduction of change.

The other week, I talked about the latest findings coming out of Saugatuck Technology, in which the biggest eye-opener was the assertion that SOA is a technology-led, versus business-led approach, which means the business case for SOA has not come to pass yet. Bill McNamee, founder and CEO of Saugatuck, dropped me a line to elaborate on thinking behind this conclusion.

The finding that technology considerations drive SOA projects "surprised us a bit, and contradicted earlier research that Saugatuck had conducted," he said. "IT and the vendor community can talk themselves blue-in-the-face about alof the great mumbo-jumbo benefits of SOA, but at the end of the day most businesses today are continuing to invest in a very 'tactically-strategic' manner."

Can IT deliver SOA to the business as a solver of business problems? Unfortunately, Bill says, it won't happen any time soon -- most IT shops are "ill-equipped" and not "properly organized" to lead such a transition. He pointed to previous work Saugatuck had done, which concluded that SOA faces some of the same challenges as utility computing and software as a service (SaaS), in companies really don't have a way to manage and pay for these models yet.

"Traditionally, the ownership, chargeback and management of applications or workloads (including their underlying infrastructures) were governed by appropriate business units in a vertical or siloed manner. However, SOA, SaaS, Open Source, and Utility Computing typically cause functionality and/or services to be shared across applications and workloads. These shared resources require a horizontal governance strategy that crosses the vertical business lines. Further, because these four initiatives impact common areas of IT resources and expertise, an overarching management process needs to be implemented to balance their respective priorities, cost strategies, long-term goals and key challenges."

Thus, the fact that IT appears to be driving SOA as a way to optimize technology deployments, but building an across-the-enterprise business model around SOA is not in the cards any time soon. "SOA runs the risk of continuing to be overhyped, resulting in a true mismatch in expectations," Bill said. "At the end of the day, this is still hard stuff to really get right."

I agree with Bill on many of these counts. Ultimately, SOA needs an evangelist -- as well as plenty of emerging pilot projects -- within the organization that will help elevate SOA from being just another technology project to a business transformation driver that has the attention of the C-level executives.