Who buys the first round of SOA?

Business value of SOA needs to be sold early and often, but what is the business value?

Okay, here's an awkward issue that still hasn't been resolved in many organizations. SOA promises a lot of great things for the enterprise, but... Who buys the first round? Someone, after all,  has to put up the money to get it all started.

In a new post, EDS fellow Fred Cummins says true enterprise-focused SOA can't doesn't spring up out of a single silo; there needs to be some sort of SOA infrastructure in place. Imagine being the first company to install telephones, but also being expected to finance the costs of the entire network, he says.

For SOA projects, departments or business units creating and maintaining the services may end up bearing the start-up costs; with secondary participants in the SOA network sucking up the benefits without the risk.

Corporate needs to step in an lay the foundation and commit the seed funding, so all departments can partake in service orientation. However, the need for this more centralized infrastructure is seen as a "burden" on organizations -- the business executives aren't convinced.

The problem is, for these early stages, SOA is sold as an IT efficiency improver. As Cummins puts it:

"The infrastructure investment anticipates a return when the number of network participants reaches critical mass. Unfortunately, most executive leaders will be skeptical about the potential business value of SOA. SOA is promoted primarily as a new technology with potential IT cost savings."

Not enough is being done to sell the ultimate value of SOA, which is in enabling improvements to the efficiency and agility of the enterprise, Cummins writes.

This must be demonstrated to executives, not only for the infrastructure investment, but for the changes that will be needed in organizations and governance. "The real challenge is to find redundant capabilities that can be consolidated to yield significant business value," Cummins says. He says the business value needs to be sold from the get-go. And that business value "comes from the consolidation and sharing of business capabilities across the enterprise. There may be some business value in the consolidation of computer applications and supporting technology, but the real business value should come from transformation of the enterprise to exploit shared capabilities."

The trouble is that many SOA efforts hit the wall when it comes to moving ROI into this realm. It's an issue of measurement. ROI is relatively easy to capture and see when developer productivity is realized, or when data entry time is reduced, or when an interactive voice response channel can operate off the same system as the customer care center.

But business agility is squishy stuff. How do you measure SOA's contribution to business transformation or business agility? Again, very squishy stuff.