Saugatuck: why SOA adoption is at a 'crawl'

SOA is a tough sell that vendors don't get

Maybe it's because vendors still sell SOA as toolsets, versus concepts. (Who can sell a "concept," right?) Or, maybe business users are perplexed by the technospeak that typically is invoked in SOA discussions. For a variety of reasons, SOA adoption has been moving at a snail's pace within enterprises, according to the latest report out of Saugatuck Research.

Their conclusion: "Despite its exceptional potential for user and vendor business flexibility and growth, SOA adoption continues to crawl. Saugatuck research indicates that relatively few user enterprises worldwide have deployed SOA beyond departmentally-driven trials and proofs of concept."

Most SOA projects are mired in the first wave of evolution, the research firm concludes. At this stage, SOA is still confined to departmental-level implementations, creating "islands of SOAs," versus the cross-departmental and enterprise-wide initiatives everyone dreams about.

Not that the vendors aren't trying to push their brands of SOA onto their customer bases -- IBM, SAP, Salesforce, HP, and Oracle are pushing Big SOA bigtime. But the problem is that SOA is still being promoted as a technology, rather than as a business implementation, Saugatuck says.

"For all of the hype about SOA being driven by business need, the reality is that SOA is first and foremost being positioned and sold as an IT "toolbox solution" rather than as a product -- a core technology-based approach to be used in solutions. Saugatuck research indicates that user business executives tend to understand products better than concepts. And while the SOA concept is relatively simple, and it is heavily promoted as being 'business-driven,' discussions about SOA quickly devolve into technologically-heavy descriptions of software architecture, services, coding, standards and interfaces."

The question is, if SOA were positioned better as purely a business solution, who would these vendors be selling to, and what exactly would they be selling? Are IT vendors in a position to sell business transformation to CEOs, CFOs, and CMOs? What do they want to transform to?

Saugatuck also observes that SOA vendor sales tactics continue to miss the broader audience. Vendors "overwhelmingly emphasize a climate of fundamental and necessary business change, and a demand for innovation by user executives, as key factors that should push user enterprises toward SOA." The problem is that "innovation" is an amorphous term, and no two executives can agree what it really means to their business.

Tony Baer recently pointed to IBM's conundrum in this regard, observing that "technology providers like IBM... need to sort out to whom they actually sell SOA."Saugatuck also notes that while IBM's recent SOA confab "offered example after example of user IT executives starting off by talking about their enterprise's business problems and SOA," but quickly dove "deeply into complex architecture diagrams and acronyms."

Saugatuck says there is a peculiar "chicken and egg" situation when it comes to SOA and IT leadership. That is, "enterprises with strong IT leadership -- meaning a strategic-minded CIO with authority (and budget) at the business planning table -- tend to have more and more successful, SOA implementations."

However, the report continues, "whether it is SOA driving strong IT, or strong IT driving SOA, is yet to be seen."

Most likely, it's strong organizations are driving strong IT and strong SOA.