Survey: SOA muddles up business processes

Survey finds that among companies that are already using SOA, 36% find themselves unable to reconfigure business processes as needed -- versus 13% of non-SOA adopters. Why?
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

SOA is all about streamlining and managing business processes, but if you really need to streamline and manage your business processes, stay away from SOA. 

That's one interpretation from a recent survey on SOA implementations. Does SOA make business process management (BPM) even more difficult than it already is? Line56's Tamina Vahidy dissected the latest research out of AMR Research, which found that a fifth of respondents (20%) had deployed SOA, with another third planning to implement in the coming 12 months.

AMR conducted a survey and found "Web services" deployments to perceived as the primary delivery vehicle of SOA  (71%), followed by portal frameworks (61%), application servers (46%), and integration frameworks (43%). About 14% regarded business process management solutions to be the ticket to SOA, and another 14% cite enterprise service bus.

There are a number of perceived benefits with SOA, including faster and more flexible reconfiguration of business processes (48%), decrease of operational costs of IT (28%), and another 15% citing secure and reliable service levels.
Vahidy notes that while BPM is the biggest benefit in SOA, the survey finds SOA companies are more likely to be having issues with business processes than non-SOA companies. Among companies that are already using SOA, 36% find themselves unable to reconfigure business processes as needed -- versus 13% of non-SOA adopters.

Okay, what gives here?

According to AMR, the reason for this is likely to be the low level of BPM solutions adoption (14%), and the difficulty in service-enabling large, complex legacy systems. An SOA rollout needs to be joined by a BPM rollout. Vahidy concludes that "this illustrates the impossibility of tackling SOA as a discrete investment or strategy. It involves and benefits from adjacent technologies, like BPM, and does better in environments that have already been simplified and rationalized. In other words, if you're not willing to spend on SOA-supporting technology and have a sprawl of legacy systems, this might not be the right time to leap into SOA, especially if what you want out of the deployment is the more efficient reconfiguration of business processes."

Hey, I thought SOA was supposed to simplify things! 

The AMR finding may prove that age-old adage: "If you automate a mess, you get an automated mess." It also suggests that sometimes SOA means taking two steps forward and one step backward. Breaking down business processes into components can be a non-trivial task. In the long run, there are tantalizing long-term benefits in terms of agility and flexibility. But the short run can be messy. And politically risky if users perceive that the old application is humming along just fine.

Perhaps there is also a skew with the respondents of the survey, in which those involved in SOA are simply more aware of problems with their business processes, because they have already sat down and sorted through the issues. Perhaps they are adopting SOA because they couldn't deal with business processes under the old regime. (A causal relationship.) Or, the non-SOAers may be reporting fewer problems because the legacy system is chugging along just fine, and they have not yet begun to closely scrutinize their processes.  (Another adage kicks in here: "If it isn't broke, then break it!") 

PolarLake's Ronan Bradley also posted some commentary on this survey report, and puts the blame on the large vendors for this apparent disconnect between SOA and BPM. He notes that these results show "the first measurement I have seen of the gap between the SOA dream and the SOA reality. And that gap is BIG and likely to get bigger." Bradley says that's because there are no tangible products for SOA yet, and vendors are repackaging their old EAI products as ESB products.

So much for simplicity.

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