IT may carry the water for SOA for some time to come

When will business finally take ownership of SOA? Probably when SOA becomes the business
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Let's face the reality we see on the ground: for the most part, SOA is an IT department thing. But should it be? Of course not -- SOA needs to be owned by the entire organization. But at least for now, IT is doing all the heavy lifting, while the rest of the business looks on with curiosity.

When will business finally take ownership of SOA? Probably when SOA becomes the business

In speeches and writings here, I've often compared ideal-world SOA to a condominium association, in which everyone is an owner, but agrees to chip in for common services (such as trash collection), abide by common rules and policies (no cars on cinder blocks in the parking lot), and appoint a management oversight committee to keep things running.

Rich Seeley has just broached the topic of SOA ownership over at SearchWebServices, and I saw an interesting analogy provided by Miko Matsumura (Software AG), who also used the property theme. Miko said that IT shouldn't exclusively "own" SOA, though it paradoxically has the expertise and is doing most of the work. "If you have an electrician at your house," he said, "she may know more about your own electrical system than you do. But does she own the house? Should she decide where you need mood lighting and where you need track lighting?" The electrician will know more about the electrical system than the homeowner, but all decisions are ultimately up to the homeowner.

I always like Miko's analogies, and I think this is a good one as well, but I feel like something is missing in the equation. In fact, a statement Todd Biske made last month has been kind of sticking in my mind. Todd said that it's important to regard IT as a full partner of the business, versus a "supplier":

"I believe strongly that a customer/supplier relationship between IT and the end users of IT in the business is a bad thing, in most cases. If IT moves to exclusively to that model, the business leaders should clearly always be considering outsourcing IT completely. In doing so, it definitely sends a clear message that technology usage is not going to be a competitive advantage for this company. I believe that outsourcing can make sense for horizontal domains, where cost management is the most important concern."

"The right model, in my opinion, is to have IT be part of the business, not a supplier to the business. To be part of a business, you need to be a partner, not a supplier."

Todd went on to note how the CIOs from Aetna, Accenture, and American Express are on the boards of those companies, because IT is such an important part of their competitive advantage and strategy going forward. As Steve Squeri of American Express said in an interview: "The days of tech leaders as relationship managers and 'order takers' will go by the wayside and they will be called upon to create and drive technology strategies that drive business capabilities."

Back to the subject of project ownership: my colleague Dana Gardner dives down deeper in the question of shared ownership, and points out that it is an enigma wrapped up in a riddle. "Even the most progressive enterprises, the ownership of a single business process is ambiguous," he pointed out in a new post here at ZDNet.

SOA swims against the tide of a trend that has been unfolding for some time, Dana says. "Organizations have been created for decades based on the notion of decentralization — which is just another way of breaking up complexity into small chunks and assigning responsibility for the chunks, often at the expense of minding the whole. Very few individuals or teams are defined or incentivized to manage an entire business process. Yet this an essential stepping stone to SOA, and to eventually making the business case for SOA. ...In effect, SOA and its foundational core, business processes, are fighting back against the long-term tide of decentralization and IT specialization."

Perhaps this is why SOA remains more under the purview of IT at this point. However, it can be argued that business is increasingly not only becoming more intertwined with technology with each day that passes, but that technology itself is driving the business. We saw this at work with the dot-coms, and it's clear that any new opportunities and growth that arise for the business will almost always be technology-driven or technology-led (such as online channels, or automating more decisioning processes).

Will the business come to SOA, or will SOA come to the business? SOA ultimately may not only be reshaping the way the IT department operates, but how the entire business operates.

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