Is the SOA glass one-tenth full, or nine-tenths empty?

Survey finds only 22% of federal agencies with completed SOA projects feel their implementations are successful.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

A new survey finds that more than one out of ten federal agencies, 11%, now have a functioning service-oriented architecture up and running within their organizations. Is one out of ten a lot, considering we're just getting our feet wet with all this SOA stuff? Or is it miniscule, considering it means that 89% don't have an SOA in place yet?

Only 22% of agencies with completed SOA projects feel their implementations are successful.

A vendor body called the "The Merlin Federal SOA Coalition" interviewed 196 federal IT decision makers and finds a mixed picture to date in SOA implementations.

For now, one out of ten is a good start for an approach and generation of technologies the industry is just starting to get its arms around. While implementations are in the minority, it seems every agency now has some level of interest in SOA: Along with the 11% that already have SOA, 38% report they are in the planning stages, 15% in design, 18% in pilot, and 18% are in some stage of deploying SOA.  That's 100%.

Merlin even came up with a good working definition of SOA for the survey: "An architecture built around a collection of services on a network that communicate with each other. The services are loosely coupled, have well-defined, platform-independent interfaces, and are reusable."

However, paralleling InformationWeek's recent general industry survey, the feds aren't getting much more out of their implementations than anyone else at this point. The survey finds only 22% of those with completed projects (presumably, out of that 11%) claiming their SOA implementations to be successful, defined as meeting the project's identified goals. (Only seven percent in the IW survey considered their SOA projects to be successes, so it's an improvement.) Twenty-eight percent of the federal agencies claimed the project was either "not successful" (14%) or a "fiasco" (14%). 

So, to put it in perspective, 22% successes out of 11% completed/running SOAs means that only about two percent of organizations in total have success stories to tell at this time. But again, we can't put too much emphasis on these figures yet, because it's too early in the game for SOA. By most measures, companies will begin seeing the most significant ROI from their deployments incrementally, within a five-year timeframe.

In line with surveys of private-sector enterprises, the feds see integration between disparate systems as their main driver toward SOA.  Fifty-two cite integration, followed by 38% seeking greater agility. Interestingly, cost savings ranks lower, with 31% looking at SOA as a way to get around constricted budgets. The up-front costs of SOA may make initial savings negligible.

The greatest challenge to federal SOA projects? As with their private-sector counterparts, organizational awareness and politics stand in the way the most. Fifty percent say lack of SOA knowledge within their agencies are the greatest obstacles, while 47% say there's a "reluctance to change from the status quo."

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