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Study: the public sector 'gets' SOA, or at least 'shared services'

Seven out of ten government agencies are moving toward SOA, or at least a shared-services model.

A reader, Tim Bertrand of HP-Mercury, begs to differ with comments from a recent article in which the VP of a major defense contractor says the industry and defense department is struggling to determine a sound business case for SOA, recently covered in this blogsite:

"I couldn't disagree more with David Bryan's comments in the FCW story. I can name 30 MAJOR Federal Programs moving their architecture toward SOA, and at least 10-20 more who have it in the plans for 07/08. No business case for SOA??!! How about 90-day development cycles, leveraging existing functionality without heavy-duty coding, INTEROPERABILITY (something the DOD has never had), and INFORMATION SHARING!"

More than half of public sector respondents say they already use a 'shared services model,' while 16 percent plan to within the next three years.

Tim's observations are validated by new stats, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit and funded by BEA Systems, which show that at least 70 percent of public sector agencies are using or intend to use a "shared-services model" to enhance citizen service and increase efficiency. More than half of the 127 public sector respondents (54 percent) indicated that they already use a shared services model, while 16 percent expect to introduce shared services within the next three years.

A couple of my own observations here: It's interesting that the survey designers referred to the deployments mainly as "shared services," and not outright "SOA." I speculate if they simply asked about "SOA" adoption, the number may have been lower, since most organizations have not achieved fully functioning SOAs across their enterprises yet.

Also, much of the discussion around SOA has been linking IT to business drivers, with the goal of greater profitability. Of course, government entities don't have profitability as a goal, but rather, delivering services to constituents as cost-effectively as possible. Business SOA at this point is currently focused on internal efficiencies, but as it matures, will play a greater role in a growth-driven agenda. Public sector SOA, on the other hand, will continue to be driven by internal efficiencies -- and thus, we're likely to see more early success stories here.

In fact, internal efficiencies do dominate government SOA agendas, the Economist/BEA survey of 127 organizations from across the globe finds. Shared services also promote efficiency improvement and reduce cost -- almost 82 percent cite cost reduction across multiple departments as the most compelling reason to use shared services, while 42 percent perceive shared services as a way to improve citizen/customer satisfaction. Up to 67 percent of respondents believe that IT processes would benefit most from shared services.

The survey also found that a shared services model would make its deepest impact on business process improvement (cited by 75 percent of respondents). Nearly half of respondents (48 percent) intend to deliver shared services through a single portal interface.

SOA (or a shared-services model) isn't an IT decision for most respondents, however. Sixty-four percent of respondents say the decision rests with political leaders or C-level board members.

Imagine having to rely on a politician to make your infrastructure decisions...