Let's bring Steve Jobs in to make SOA a hit

Could Jobs -- who revolutionized the worlds of personal computing, movie animation, and, lately, online music -- work the same magic for SOA if he put his mind to it?

Is SOA suffering from a failure of imagination? Perhaps the industry needs someone who can really capture the imagination of business decision makers to really make service-oriented architecture all that it can and should be.

For all the vendor brouhaha around SOA, there's one voice that has been notably absent -- Apple Computer's Steve Jobs. Could Jobs -- who revolutionized the worlds of personal computing, movie animation, and, lately, online music -- work the same magic for SOA if he put his mind to it? Apple iPod

That was one of several topics of discussion in one of Dana Gardner's latest "BriefingsDirect SOA" podcasts. (Link to the podcast and transcript posted here.) I had the opportunity to join Dana, Mary Jo Foley (who also has a blog here at ZDNet), Steve Garone, and Jeff Pendleton for a stirring discussion on the latest developments in the SOA space, including Microsoft's  evolving-but-schizophrenic SOA stance.

Bill Gates can promote the heck out of SOA, and even use the term 'SOA,' but Steve Jobs has a way of packaging and marketing technology with such pizazz that everyone wants to buy it. Dana observed that Jobs "is really good at bringing technology into a passionate -- almost zealous -- direction for people, and they follow him in that regard." Notably, Dana added, "If Steve Jobs were trying to market SOA, he wouldn’t even mention SOA."

What would Steve Jobs offer in this regard? MacSOA, anyone? iSOA? iSOAPod? Personal SOA?

Jeff Pendleton agreed that SOA needs to be more compelling and captivating. "I think that for SOA to really capture the imagination of the business community -- which ultimately is going to have to fund this thing through some sort of a capital expense increase -- we are going to need to create something more compelling and inspiring, than just the 'agile' or 'adaptive,' or 'whatever' enterprise. We need inspiration right now in the business community, to say, 'Here is what you should be shooting for, and if you don’t shoot for this you may not be relevant here in the next little while. One of the enablers of this is this thing called SOA.'"

Jeff added that "IT is still this monolithic, fragile, complex entity. Most line-of-business executives really don’t like to go into the IT space. I don't think that IT is being positioned around the strategy table as something that's really going to help move the organization." 

Most likely, a lot of these line-of-business executives listen to iPods through the day, and go home and play on their Macs.

Jeff Pendleton also stated that "a lot of the fault lies within the IT community itself. Over the years, we’ve tried to dazzle and use rocket science as a way to define IT. The reality is that IT needs to be part of the day-to-day thinking -- not the day-to-day excuse -- of business."  Or, as Dana put it, "IT has perhaps over-promised and under-delivered over-budget, which has tended to pigeon-hole it into being a cost-center and an inhibitor of agility. That's what really needs to be adjusted."

However, I opined that the business community has actually come a long way in understanding the potential of computers, and therefore their understanding and appreciation of IT should not be underestimated. "If you look at the world as it was even ten years ago, there was this chasm between IT and the rest of the business. Nowadays, folks on the business side are much more savvy about computers. Everybody has a laptop and a home computer, and the world has really changed in that regard. You have a generation of employees coming on the scene in their twenties and thirties who grew up with computers. They know to a large degree how computers work, the logic of computers, and what computers can do for a business."

On the IT side, I'm seeing a tremendous push to add business skills to IT education and training itineraries. I regularly attend conferences put on by SHARE (the independent IBM user group), and find there are more and more business-track seminars. In addition, I heard that university tracks that combine technology and business skills are hot. The market is ripe, then, for a visionary to come along and expand our vision of what SOA can accomplish.

UPDATE: RedMonk's James Governor posts a very thorough analysis of Apple's strategic directions and upcoming 'enterprisey' products at his blogsite. While not in the thick of the SOA space, Apple is making quite a splash in the Web 2.0 arena.