Sluggish economy may spur more, but smaller, SOA projects

SOA doesn't have to be done exactly right the first time

Will 2008 be a year of retrenchment of our expectations of SOA, or will things really take off?

There's a debate as to whether a slow economy would help or hurt SOA. It's worth noting that the case for SOA, in tandem with Web services, was forged during the worst IT spending slump in a generation -- the 2000-2002 time period. Companies and IT professionals were attracted to the SOA/Web services concepts because they offered the attractive advantage of building or exposing existing applications at minimal cost and disruption. As the economy went into growth mode, SOA was increasingly pitched as a growth agent. If things slow down again, we may see SOA return to its roots -- the cost-savings/economies-of-scale mode of thinking.

Tony Baer, for one, says SOA expectations may be entering a bear market. He posits that economic sluggishness may temporarily turn off more grandiose visions of enterprise SOA and foster more of the incremental, low-expectation route:

"Recessions tend to discourage the kind of long-term thinking that grand enterprise architectural exercises are supposed to support. In that sense, SOA has been caught up in the middle – roughly six years after the current incarnation of the concept emerged with Web services, there remains considerable debate as to whether it makes sense to take a project or architectural approach."

Not that adoption of SOA itself will diminish anytime soon. In fact, a new survey out of Forrester Research (reported by Rich Seeley) finds more companies than ever are on the SOA bandwagon. As the study finds:

In 2005, the survey found 53 percent of enterprises were "using or planning to use SOA." By 2006, that number had grown to 62 percent, and in 2007 it reached 66 percent. More importantly for the theme of the latest survey, enterprises with an "enterprise level strategy and commitment to SOA" went from 18 percent in 2005, to 22 percent in 2006, and 26 percent in 2007.

What will happen in 2008 if companies feel a need to scale back spending? As Tony suggests, a sluggish economy may cause companies to be less willing to pony up funds for big-time SOA projects. In such an environment, the best route to SOA may be through lower-visibility service-oriented islands spawned through grassroots movements.

Actually, this realization has been building for some time. Even in the best of times, organizations need to see the ROI (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), and this is much easier to find on a project-by-project basis. 'Business agility' is a ghost of a goal that is almost impossible to benchmark and measure, but 'x hours of development time saved' is self-evident.

Tony reports on a conversation on this topic he just had with Progress Actional's Dan Foody, often a good source of wisdom of all things SOA. Dan said it's time to dispell "the notion that SOA had to be done exactly right, the first time.... The trap we got caught in was that you have to be perfect from day one,” he says.

In his own recent post, Dan recommends avoiding the terms 'agility' and 'reuse' when discussing SOA. Instead, focus on SOA's cost-savings abilities. "Consistency, avoiding duplication, and consolidation are all instrumental to managing costs. And SOA gives you these," he said.

Randy Heffner, the author of the Forrester study, feels that if IT budgets were to tighten, this may actually spur SOA development, for the same reasons:

"There are conditions under budget stress that actually encourage the use of SOA," he said. "For example, one benefit of SOA is that it extends the life of legacy applications. Say we were going to rewrite this application and spend $X millions, but we figured out we didn't have to because with a fourth of the money we could get where we needed to by SOA-enabling a legacy application."

Dan sees more movement toward an iterative approach as a result of a spending pinch, "which is to model only as much as you need to build services now while still providing freedom to act when circumstances change." Again, spot on. And isn't that what SOA is all about anyway?