Other views: Don't be so fast to declare 'Enterprise SOA' DOA

There's no point in waiting for everyone's approval to start SOA

Two industry movers and shakers, whose opinions I value greatly, have called me on the carpet for my recent post on the de-emphasizing of 'Enterprise' SOA. (See "Enterprise SOA falls out of favor.")

There's no point in waiting for everyone's approval to start SOA

Jeff Schneider, for one, said that contrary to popular belief, SOA is far from the trough of disillusionment, and says that "guerrilla" or small-project SOA only perpetuates the silo mentality that SOA is supposed to eradicate.

At the same time, Miko Matsumura said it's too premature to declare Enterprise SOA dead, because it will take time to evolve from its current state into something with more of an enterprise reach. Just as the solar system did not all form in one day.

Points well taken. Indeed, there are now plenty of organizations in which SOA is showing signs of taking hold as a transformative force, and benefits may be seen in relatively short order.

But, as readers of this blog may know, I worry incessantly about those second and third-tier organizations that don't necessarily have the most inspired management. (Not to imply that Fortune 500s always have inspired management, but that's another story...)

The bottom line is that organizations that really need SOA the most to reform and reshape their processes are the ones least likely to adopt SOA. For most of these organizations, service-orientation will be spotty, uneven, without purpose, and often without the full support of the enterprise -- or perhaps no support at all. There will be plenty of SOA proponents forced to go it alone, building success one process at a time. Guerrilla tactics may be the only way forward here.

Miko equates such localized efforts to the formation of individual planets, that exist within their own orbits until they eventually find ways to link to other planets within the same solar system. Or, as he puts it, "enterprise software has a planetary system–the guys from IT operations act like they are from another planet! The developers are from planet Koozbane... it’s not just the different branches of IT that form planets, the assortments of business units and even the central IT function are all different planets.... This may not be Enterprise (intergalactic) SOA, but at the very least Lifecycle SOA. Lets walk before we can run."

Another point Jeff made got me to thinking as well. As he put it, SOA implementations he has seen and helped develop are guided by a compelling vision. "Companies that I work with who take the time to think about what SOA means to them. They plan their community... And once they've figured out how to build a community they go do it. They don't do it for the entire enterprise all at once - that isn't what 'enterprise SOA' means. Instead, they partition their enterprise into a set of communities and attack them, often in parallel."

Perhaps we tend to think too small when it comes to SOA. Maybe we need to start 'thinking big.' As with anything in life, constrained, limited thinking leads to mediocrity. Dreaming big opens up the universe to new possibilities, new ideas, and new innovation. In the long run, SOA is far more than standardized interfaces or streamlined processes -- I wouldn't be writing this blog if that's all it meant. Beyond systems, SOA has the potential to reorder organizations into confederations of entrepreneurs and brokered services that will open up new opportunities for everyone in the economy. (I posted some of these SOA areas of opportunity here.)

But right now, as countless surveys keep telling us, SOA still mainly resides within IT. IT may be a catalyst for organizational change, but shouldn't be expected to carry the torch of overall business transformation. The entire enterprise needs to be active in this effort.

As SOA helps reconstituted business succeed in the marketplace, market forces will compel the masses of companies with less-inspired management to follow suit.

But until then, there's no point in waiting for everybody's approval. As Nike says, 'Just do it.'