Time to get bullish on SOA, IT, and the economy

Times of turmoil always equate to times of new opportunity. As I've said before time and again, the current rough-and-tumble economy is really a time for SOA -- and information technology in general -- to shine, to prove their mettle.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Times of turmoil always equate to times of new opportunity. As I've said before time and again, the current rough-and-tumble economy is really a time for SOA -- and information technology in general -- to shine, to prove their mettle.

Yes, I am well aware of the challenges we face. I've personally been through layoffs and economic trials in my life. I was even laid off from a job five days before my wedding to my wife, Kathy, about a decade and a half back.  And we had just acquired a mortgage! That was the impetus to start my own consulting business providing research services and content to the information technology industry. I probably wouldn't have taken that daring step if I remained gainfully employed. Yes, there have been ups and downs (especially 2001-2002), but IT is a great, upbeat, entrepreneurial, intellectually challenging, and future-oriented industry, and the place to be.

SOA was forged as a response to the IT industry recession of 2001-2002. We knew we had to find ways to deploy technology more efficiently, and with more value to the business. There was even a growing recognition that for many organizations, IT was now the business.

Why and how can information technology make a difference and pull us out of the economic muck? Very simply, it's about productivity. The reason we've done so well in past decades with a rising standard of living and falling relative prices is because of our rising productivity -- the ability to do incredibly more with incredibly less. Automation, information technology, and service orientation make us enormously competitive. We need to keep on pushing the limits of productivity.

Harvard's Andrew McAfee, who studied the impact of information technology on business growth on industries over a 10-year timeframe, has documented there is a strong correlation between IT investment and growth.

In my own business, I can now design and field an industry survey -- all online -- within hours, and have top-line results within a day. Back when I first started my career, surveys were a tedious, expensive, labor intensive process of printing, sorting, mailing and data entry that took weeks and months. Look at communications -- I deal with clients across the globe in real-time and near real time, as if they were in the next room. I can e-mail and surf the Web day and night, from anywhere, from my mobile phone. I can post to this blogsite and have it read across the globe within seconds of it being posted. Incredible stuff unimaginable just a few years back.

And back to SOA...  it's great to see IBM is pressing the message that SOA is good for business, and SOA will play a role in driving business forward through the current turmoil and into the coming economic recovery. And in the process, businesses will be well positioned to grow and surpass their competitors.

This is a message that Sandy Carter, IBM vice president for SOA, BPM and WebSphere Marketing, conveyed at the recent IBM Virtual Global SOA Forum, "Work Smarter, Take Out Costs In a Tough Economy." It's an opportunity to thrive, not just survive, she says. (Transcript of Sandy's speech available here.)  RedMonk's James Governor also reflected this bullishness on SOA, as mentioned in a previous post -- in which he speculates that if financial institutions were more service-oriented with their business technology, they might have seen less of the mortgage mess.

I like Sandy's analogy of the cheetah -- the fastest animal on the planet -- that is now on the endangered species list, yet the simple little chipmunk thrives. Why is this so? Because the chipmunk is incredibly adaptable and agile, while the cheetah isn't. Businesses need to achieve much greater adaptability, she says.

SOA is part of what Sandy referred to a "smarter planet" -- in which people, businesses and events are now interconnected by trillions of components and devices. "Service orientation really is the key to agility and cost optimization," she relates. "By extracting services from your applications, putting those business services in a reusable format, it allows you to quickly change, based on what's happening in the environment, or to invoke change yourself on the industry. It allows you to flexibly connect information, because you isolate the business logic from the underpinning IT. and  then you can reuse. Not just the IT assets, but the business assets as well. This allows you to unlock the power. Of your business resources, as well as your IT resources. And provide agility and cost optimization."

Now, one of the sticking points has been measuring the impact of SOA efforts on agility. It's possible to track metrics such as developer productivity, but business agility is an amorphous area. Sandy says IBM has developed what she calls "Key Agility Indicators" (KAIs) that function in the same manner as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), when data from key business metrics -- such as sales per unit or inventory turns -- are captured and appied to a specific project.

Of course, you would need to buy IBM products and services to access their KAIs. But I can see a general form of KAIs becoming openly available. I think it's the right line of thinking for all to consider.

And it's time to get bullish. Or better yet, chipmunk-ish.

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