Unclouding the business case for 'inside-out' SOA

The business case for inside-out SOA may have already been in play for at least a decade at some companies.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Developing the business justification may be one of the most difficult parts of an SOA project. However, the business case for inside-out SOA may have already been in play for at least a decade at many companies. 

The business case for SOA services extended to partners was already made back in 1999

Todd Biske (MomentumSI) saw my recent open-ended question about the impact of moving SOA out into the cloud, and suggests that perhaps you may not have to work so hard to find a business case for services delivered to the cloud. It may have been there all along.

As I frequently harp on in this blog, the business case for SOA at the development and operational level may be pretty straightforward for many organizations, with savings generated from reuse of services and ensuing developer productivity. But at a higher level, the business case is not so clear cut. How do you measure "agility," how does the agility your business achieves translate into dollars, and how much of this is attributable to SOA, versus that master data management initiative, CRM system, or new compensation system your organization also just put in place?

So where does the business case go when SOA moves beyond just being about internal productivity or agility, and becomes part of business-to-business interactions? Todd astutely observes that the business case for services shared between businesses may have already been made long before SOA comes into the picture:

"SOA doesn’t justify opening services up to the cloud. It’s the other way around. If the business needs to communicate with external parties in a system-to-system interaction, guess what, you need SOA. I don’t think there’s anything new here, and clearly, many of the early SOA efforts that have been presented at conferences reflect this."

Todd adds that "business requires interaction between two or more companies. Can SOA help in that interaction? Absolutely." However, its likely that many of these interactions previously existed, and are just being made more efficient with SOA. For example, replacing extranet portals that required human interaction with system-to-system services. The business benefits may have already been realized since 1999, and SOA is automating the transaction. 

Thus, the promise of SOA may be to deliver more efficiency on the outside just as it does on the inside, but any higher-level business case around "agility" remains elusive.

Mark O'Neill also provides insights on this next phase of SOA, noting that his company, Vordel, always sees "a high number of internal SOAs being exposed across the firewall (well, across the XML Gateway in our case). But, in most cases they are not being exposed to the entire 'cloud,' but to partners, suppliers, and customers."

Mark points out that security is the biggest issue in moving SOA out to the cloud. He sees parallels between SOA and the great Public Key Infrastructure movement of yore: 

"Remember when business would spend a lot of time and money on ponderous and slow-moving internal PKI projects? And remember then that SSL proved to be the simple use case of PKI which took off in the 'cloud' like wildfire and enabled a huge amount of innovation and commerce? Then remember that many of the internal PKI projects simply used the 'cloud' by using VeriSign certificates? And VeriSign did very well out of this? Well, substitute 'SOA' for 'PKI' and 'REST' for 'SSL', and you have the situation with Web Services now. But who is the VeriSign this time?"

The portal-to-SOA move will herald more efficiency. But we all know that even the most efficient buggy whip maker couldn't have competed against the automobile. Nor could the most incredibly efficient maker of VCR players compete against DVDs or now, downloads. SOA won't mean much if all it delivers is more efficiency. Here's where the "agility" will come into play over the long run: Look for the rise of the "loosely coupled business," in which a core business group will act as a 'broker' of sorts for services secured from various external sources. Essentially, the most agile business you can imagine will build its model upon a bundle of services provided by third parties from across the globe.

That's where SOA will begin to make its mark on the world. Thus, the inside-out movement predicted for SOA will start to make this happen. As Todd notes, for an SOA effort to open up new opportunities, it needs to be driven by the business strategy, not by the technology.

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