Seven areas of opportunity around SOA, circa 2007

Seven things that will make SOA interesting in 2007.

SOA is a challenge, but abounds with opportunities -- not only to streamline a process, but to change the way a business is managed. Technology -- along with SOA evangelization --may be the catalyst that could bring an organization out of its creaky, hidebound corporate culture and begin to seize new opportunities.

A few years back, management author Tom Peters posited that the best progress is made by encouraging, formulating and acting on HBIs, or "half-baked ideas." I would like to offer my own list of HBIs, culled from developments in the SOA space over the past year. 

Seven things that will make SOA interesting in 2007

Regular readers of this blog may have already seen some of the HBIs that pop up in my postings. This list of seven areas of SOA opportunity is culled from postings from the past 12 months:

Growing pains: Most SOA implementations are still in the JBOWS stage (Just a Bunch of Web Services). An effective, functioning service-oriented architecture requires governance, and the ability to share services across multiple business units and enterprises. It’s easy to build Web services. You could build 10 of them in an afternoon. But, then you end up with a JBOWS architecture (Just a Bunch of Web Services), which will grow into a different sort of SOA — a Spaghetti-Oriented Architecture. SOA requires orchestration between the services and governance. This is an opportunity for those proposing or offering governance tools and methodologies as a way to clean up a growing tangle of point-to-point services.

Paradox: The organizations that need SOA the most are the least likely to implement SOA. The companies that could benefit the most from service-oriented architecture are also the least likely to implement SOA. While SOA is often touted as a way for companies to improve IT/business alignment, it tends to work best for companies that already have such alignment. They typically already have technology and governance best practices in place, which makes the road to SOA a whole lot smoother. This offers opportunities for those in less progressive organizations who can take on the role of SOA evangelist who can sell the concept to upper management.

Loosely coupled thinking: Ultimately, loosely coupled technology paves the way to loosely coupled businesses. Make way for the loosely coupled business, run on loosely coupled services. Just as businesses are evolving into loosely coupled components, so to are the systems that support them. Many industry analysts predict that the concept of an "application" will be obsolete -- rather, our businesses will depend on services that are combined, mixed, matched, mashed and reused as needed. Over the years, there has been a great deal of angst about the viability of the "hollow" corporation, which links processes and services to customers, but produces nothing itself. Thanks to new technologies, what was a linear supply chain is now close to being a synchronous network, affording better visibility and control over processes.

Made to order: Application vendors may begin to look more like "Dells" than "IBMs."  More and more solutions are being built collaboratively, paving the way for the creation of modular, standardized building blocks that can be assembled, on-demand, for specific requirements. Application vendors that play the role of "assemblers" -- rather than "creators" -- can leverage these components and quickly deliver services or components at reasonable prices will have the upper hand in the market going forward.

Opportunity knocks: SOA provides opportunities for microbusinesses: As applications continue to break down into loosely coupled components, enterprises will rely more on functions provided through Software as a Service model, versus developing and maintaining everything in house. As noted in the two previous items, the "loosely coupled business" or ISV aggregates services on an on-demand basis to meet customer demands. Many, if not all, of such services may be provided from third parties. It is likely, then, that MicroISVs may be the providers of these service-oriented components, perhaps charging on a per-transaction basis. A MicroISV may be an entrepreneur working from a spare bedroom; or  it may be a unit of a larger non-IT enterprise as well. Many of today’s enterprises have already evolved into confederations of entrepreneurs and ad-hoc teams on a process level.

Integration, light and simple: Web 2.0 is becoming the "Global SOA." ZDNet blogging colleague Dion Hinchcliffe made this observation last year, and as Web 2.0 and SOA converge, we're seeing this come to pass. This convergence has interesting implications for companies seeking faster and more cost effective ways to integrate their disparate silos of systems and information. As Dion observed: "Live users are still the manual integration point of our systems far too often, and now it's getting easier and easier for the average person to direct software do the integration automatically."

SOA will increase outsourcing. SOA will suppress outsourcing. Last July, IT outsourcing company Accenture announced it plans to invest $450 million over the next three years in the development of SOA applications. What do they know? Sure, many companies will pull aspects of development in-house, since SOA can make integration so quick and painless. But SOA also offers major opportunities for outsourcing arrangements. First, busy IT shops — especially those with large enterprise systems — may not have enough human resources to effectively deploy SOAs. Second, infrastructures based on SOA will lower the barrier of entry for outsourcing providers, which will energize the market. Third, the growing standardization and "hot-swappability" of SOA components makes it easier to outsource — perhaps as SaaS — pieces of the IT infrastructure.