Who takes credit for SOA 'success'? Should IT?

Success has a thousand fathers, while failure is an orphan -- but if you're looking for someone to blame, blame IT, right?

Lately, Ron Schemlzer kicked off quite a kerfuffle across the blogosphere (joined in by yours truly as well) on who's really putting up the greatest resistance to service oriented architecture. Ron says the IT department itself is the one that is gumming up the works.

Success has a thousand fathers, while failure is an orphan -- but if you're looking for someone to blame, blame IT, right?

Maybe an updated version of that old saying applies: success has a thousand fathers, while failure is an orphan -- but if you're looking for someone to blame, blame IT.

This week, I had the opportunity to attend InfoWorld's SOA Executive Forum in New York, in which a number of enterprise IT execs provided updates on the progress of their SOA efforts. In each of these cases, IT was the catalyst for organizational transformation.

While it was clear from these cases that IT was able to to get the ball rolling toward greater agility and responsiveness to customers and markets, Robert Bongiorno, senior VP and CIO of Employer Services for Automatic Data Processing, raised another point that needs to be considered: When "successful," how much of a role is SOA playing when an organization reaches its goals (such as increased growth)?

Bongiorno said that in the three years since ADP began its SOA efforts in earnest, the company has achieved accelerated revenue growth of up to 12 percent. In addition, client retention has steadily improved. "Our sales department would probably like to take credit for this," he said. "We'd also like to take credit -- we know that we contributed part of this."

Through SOA and an accompanying governance effort, ADP has been able to centralize its product delivery cycles, Bongiorno said. The ability to cut down on client turnover has had a very significant effect on profitability, he noted. Through SOA, the company was able to centralize its information flow, governed by a product council.

Another company, formerly a government bureaucracy, was able to leverage SOA to streamline itself into a more entrepreneurial lean, mean fighting company. W. George Glass, Chief Architect for BT, described his organization's SOA efforts, which began about three years ago. As a result of the SOA, the company has been able to close down close to 800 systems, and plans to close down another 700 to 900 systems over the coming 12 months, Glass said.

BT's SOA proponents have been able to evolve the company's focus from maintaining operations to concentrating on the customer experience, he explained. Now, even BT's CEO is talking about services such as order to cash. "The language of the IT department has now percolated right up through the business," he said.

BT intends to be fully SOA enabled by 2009, Glass said. BT's SOA deployment now covers up to 3,500 core systems, built on 14 platforms. BT has identified 63 capabilities that includes various functions, with another 22 on the way. New capabilities go into the test cycle every three months, Glass said.

To keep IT on track, BT also has tied carrots and sticks to the use of standards and shareable services in new applications, Glass added. If members of the IT department pass the implementation test in line with SOA, they earn a bonus in advance. However, "every time IT deviates against the architecture, they lose a quarter of their annual bonus," he said.

When fully complete, the transition will make it much easier for BT to build and introduce new products and services for customers by reusing common components – say, customer identification and revenue collection – allowing BT to focus development resources just on new functionality, Glass said.

Glass emphasized that to build acceptance for SOA, proponents need to "show the benefits to business partners in dollars and cents." We established a "completely new way of working at BT -- always start with the customer experience. "We're using SOA to build a customer oriented architecture."