Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Did the SOA Community Fail You?

Yesterday, I had an interesting discussion with another SOA veteran on the subject of barriers to successful SOA. The conversation led to a fairly obvious conclusion that several parties aren't pulling their weight. The parties we discussed included: the Venture Capital Community, Standards Bodies, I.T. Analysts, the Press, the Academics, SOA Infrastructure Vendors, Consulting and Training Vendors, Packaged Application Vendors and Design Tooling Vendors. Here is my personal view on their success:

Venture Capital Community
The VC's did their job. They invested early; many of the investments were made in the days following 9-11 which was a tough time for anyone to invest, but they did it. And when they did, they funded deep - but not too deep. It wasn't crazy dot-com investment. As their investments grew up, they did a good job helping them to find parent companies. On a scale of 1 - 10 stars, I'll give the VC a solid 10 on SOA.

Standards Bodies
Many will argue that a key enabler of SOA was the creation of Web Service standards. The creation of SOAP, WSDL, UDDI and the WS-* stack has been both a blessing and a curse. Often the concepts of SOA are tied to implementations and the limitations of those implementations are then attached to SOA. This is a tough one for me to score. IMHO, the real standards work was done behind closed doors at IBM and Microsoft and then handed to the standard bodies for cleaning and revising. In some cases the standards bodies did more harm then good. Overall, I'll give them 6 stars.

I.T. Analysts
The I.T. analysts got on the SOA bandwagon pretty early. Overall they did a good job of covering an extremely broad subject. Boutiques like ZapThink, Burton Group, CBDI and Macehiter Ward-Dutton showed precision analysis and deep insight. While Gartner, Forrester and IDC all did a sincere job covering the space, their insights often lagged the blogs and mainstream media. I'm giving the I.T. Analysts 8 stars.

The Press
The press has been overly generous on the topic of SOA. Most of the large publications have a regular column on SOA and even an SOA blog. Some, like Infoworld, have even held SOA conferences. I think that the reporting has been fair, but often light. Maybe I'm too old, but I remember back when magazines would do more lab testing and comparing products. This just doesn't seem to happen very often anymore. Now, we vote on 'hot products'; how lame is that? If the press would bring back the labs (or more case studies), I'd give them a solid 10. But lacking this I have to give them a 7.

The Academics
I have no expectations for the academics to do anything. And in my opinion they haven't. They're just where I like them. Hence, they get a solid 10.

SOA Infrastructure Vendors
Infrastructure such as: XML Appliances, ESB's, Orchestration Engines, Smart Intermediaries, Web Service Management/Monitoring, Registries and Repositories became mainstream in the SOA era. For the most part, I was impressed with the ingenuity that the startup's demonstrated in forging their products. And even some of the big guys like IBM showed that they have game. I'd love to give these guys a solid 10 but I can't. It's because of the big lie. These vendors have told customers that their products work with each other and for the most part they don't. HP/Systinet promoted the Governance Interoperability Framework as a solution, but in my personal opinion, they completely failed to deliver. And the rest of the vendors have sat on their lazy asses acting like the problem doesn't exist. I'm giving them 7 stars. How ironic is it that SOA vendors lose 3 stars for having a lack of interoperability?

Consulting and Training Vendors
As a consulting and training vendor - this is a hard one to do. There are a few companies like MomentumSI that I believe are doing a good job of helping organizations make the transition to SOA. The problem is that there are only a few doing a good job and a very large percentage who are not. Consulting companies should be able to quickly deliver SOA best practices, methodology adjustments, job descriptions, project mentoring and deep knowledge on tough subjects like governance and change management. For the most part, the big guys (Accenture, BearingPoint, CSC, EDS, SAIC, WiPro, etc.) are still very immature. There are a few notable exceptions, in my opinion Infosys, CGEY and IBM Global Services are all making sincere attempts to build out their SOA competency, with IBM leading the pack. I'm going to have to give this category 6 stars.

Packaged Application Vendors
First, as long as this category is called 'packaged apps' and not 'packaged services' I'm probably going to bash it. I remember back when we used to talk about the end of 'big bang implementations'. This was the idea that you wouldn't spend 3 years installing and configuring a huge monolithic application like SAP. Instead, you'd do it one service at a time. Ha! The packaged app companies were quick to get on the SOA bandwagon. They realized that this paradigm offered a genuine threat to their model and were quick to say that they embraced it. The question is, "embraced what?" That they'd web service enable BAPI's and hide the ABAP code? You've gotta be joking? And there is a reason why people refer to the Oracle strategy as conFUSION. Without a doubt, the best thing that these guys have done is made promises about SOA indicating to customers that SOA is the future. Yes, because of their marketing efforts I am forced to give this category 2 stars.

Design Tooling Vendors
In every paradigm change, we require new tools to facilitate the new architecture. In past generations we saw wonderful products like Rational Rose, ER/Win and TogetherJ rise to the occasion. I am so disappointed in the lack of progress in this category. The EA modeling vendors have demonstrated 'pompous ignorance' and failed to deliver anything resembling modern SOA tooling. Notational standards for service models remain in their infancy. I firmly believe that the lack of SOA modeling standards and tools will defer the adoption cycle. This category deserves zero stars.

Now the burden is on the buyer. Did the SOA Community fail you or will you fail it? It is the responsibility of every buyer to push the community to do a better job. Money talks.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Talking to the Business about SOA

I often recieve the question, "How do you go about talking to the business about SOA?"

Here's my advice. Don’t lump all non-I.T. functions into a single bucket called the business! We must know our audience and create a message that they can relate to.

There are many definitions of SOA, but my favorite is to describe SOA as an 'I.T. economic model focused on cost savings through increased utilization of existing enterprise assets'. First and foremost, shared services should be viewed as a subsidized and highly leveraged asset that lends itself to supply and demand economics.

From a slightly different perspective, we can say, “SOA is an I.T. investment model that allows you to view your enterprise I.T. assets from a portfolio perspective enabling precision investing.” Here, the focus is on the granularity of the investment. By breaking large, monolithic investments into smaller units we have increased our ability to specify and evaluate individual investments.

In the past, it was difficult for I.T. to divide up large systems into smaller units and have each smaller unit sourced individually. In order to do this successfully, you need to be able to specify how they will reintegrate by using common standards. Recently, I.T. has made a significant advance in these standards and we are now able to employ a multi-sourcing strategy for very large systems. In fact, buying large pre-integrated systems that are proprietary is now considered a worst practice.

I.T. has finally learned that we need to specific software requirements using precise terminology. We’re now using “digital contracts” to specify the functionality of the systems that we will build or buy. SOA makes I.T. focus on knocking out the contract before we start doing the work. This will allow us to hold internal and external parties accountable for their work products. We’ve also adopted a model for incorporating Service Level Agreements so that on-going satisfaction can be reviewed.

Corporate development groups must evaluate the risk and costs of performing acquisitions. Integrating the I.T. systems of acquired companies is generally considered a high risk and a costly endeavor. SOA enables the newly acquired systems to be leveraged in a shorter time frame facilitating business and system integration. In essence, SOA is the I.T. strategy for enabling mergers and acquisitions.

The assumption here is that the I.T. department is identifying ‘master services’ and ‘master data’. Newly acquired I.T. systems are rolled underneath these services.

Most mature SOA programs have adopted a ‘process driven’ approach to business and service analysis. By analyzing business capabilities, processes and activities, SOA services and operations can be discovered. This enables I.T. to promote (and often fund) the use of formal process analysis. In addition, since services have been broken into smaller units of work, we now have greater visibility into each unit. This is a key enabler of business process management and monitoring. Now, process improvement specialists can utilize a ‘process driven, service oriented’ approach to monitoring the business and recommending improvements.

At the end of the day, someone owns the P&L. This could be the CEO or a business unit head. Organizational leaders need to hear:
- You have a new I.T. strategy that benefits the entire company.
- The strategy can be successful through incremental investments but it will require an initial out-of-the-gate investment.
- If successful, you’ll be able to significantly reduce I.T. costs without sacrificing results.
- The entire I.T. and software industry is heading down this path, so eventually we’re going to be impacted by this software model. The only question is do we want to invest now to get ahead of the curve.

Unlike previous I.T. paradigms, SOA is not about changing out your hardware or creating a new ubiquitous user interface. For the most part, SOA is invisible to the users. This paradigm is harder to explain than others but if done correctly, it's easier to justify.

Try to avoid lumping all non-I.T. personnel into a unit called, “the business”; it’s not ‘us and them’. Know your audience and what they understand and value. SOA is a complex model that has many advantages. The key is to know which advantage to pull out and when!