Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Talking to the Business about SOA

Recently, there's been more chatter about how (or if) you should talk to the business about SOA. Yesterday, I sat in on the SOA Consortium conference call where this was the main theme. Interestingly, the moderator posed the questions and a couple participants were quick to respond... "we don't talk to the business about SOA..." The moderator took it in stride and started down the path of business and I.T. alignment - and once again the participants pushed back. Not to be dissuaded the moderator went down the BPM path. Once again, the participants pushed back. The group commented that, "talking SOA is too abstract for the business" and there was a "need to talk about business specific functionality vs just high level Agility and Change".

After attending this call, I stumbled on to Joe 2.0's blog post on the exact same topic! Even funnier was that he was quoting Jean-Jacques Dubray (JJ), who I had a 3 hour phone call with on the subject just days earlier. JJ had commented, "My experience is that the key people that you have to focus all your energy on are the developers, architects, business analysts, QAs and operations."
Joe 2.0 goes on:
Dubray says SOA is a “pure IT problem.” But in this era of the online collaborative organization, when we rely on technology for every aspect of our business, are there really any “pure IT” problems?

I don't want to split hairs... but IMHO, the answer is, "yes, some problems are just I.T. problems". Sure, I.T. problems, like HR or garbage collection, may bubble their way up to become a business problem, but at the end of the day I.T. has to figure out how to do their job and go do it. When the janitor picks up the trash in my office they do it in the most efficient way they know how. They don't ask 'the business' if they should do it efficiently - they just do it. When did I.T. become such wussies?

I'm a big believer in talking to business about whatever they want to talk about... Inventory Visibility? Love it. Customer Loyalty? Love it. New Product Introduction? Love it. That said, I believe it's I.T.'s responsibility to bring technology solutions forward. Most business people understand things like forms, window, graphs, reports, etc. They understand visual deliverables (not invisible deliverables like WSDL's). I think that is why we're seeing the most successful SOA shared service centers adopting capabilities around Rich Composite Applications, Mashups and other edge-of-the-enterprise development capabilities. They engage with the business about business problems and then use mashups and other techniques to quickly demo/prototype/build solutions that their users can relate to.

If you're looking for inspiration on this process, I'm happy to recommend a book on the subject, Mashup Corporations.
The authors do a great job of walking the readers through a fictional company. As business problems are encountered, they introduce Web 2.0 and mashup solutions. Prototypes are put together and the concepts are tested out. SOA is discussed as the 'efficient way' to make it happen. Again, they didn't talk to the business about SOA (or even services)!


Anonymous said...

SOA was IT problem 3 years ago. Nowadays, it is the business problem first, and the IT problem second.

Who a SOA promoter has to talk are:
1) business owners of business functions, services, features, and processes
2) business architects
3) Business Program Managers
4) Enterprise Architecture and IT Architecture in LOB/BU
5) IT Management (delivery)
6) IT solution and project architects

SOA realization (relaization of servce-oriented principles) should go ony one way (if it wants to succeed): WHAT (Business), WHY/WHO (Business + IT), HOW (IT + Business)

- Michael Poulin

Rob Eamon said...

Forgot to mention: I do generally agree that the terms "SOA" and "services" are generally best left out of the business level discussions. And "selling" SOA is definitely a no-no IMO.

Tony August said...

I would have to agree with Jeff and disagree with Rob. Business users don't want to have to worry about trash or IT.

A few years ago they were terrified that there competitor was going to crush them by getting on the web first. Or that they would be shut down by a Y2K bug. Fear sells. And in that environment non-IT people were willing to invest a lot of time and budget.

But time moves on. And our customer's priorities have changed (rightly so).

10,000 years ago at Boulders and Pointy Sticks Inc. they probably actually had a Trash Division. They probably had a huge staff smart guys and a CTO (Chief Trash Officer) running the whole thing. But today isn't yesterday. And if your janitor is waiting for his invite into the '09 Budget Planning committee, I fear he will be sadly disappointed.

Michael Poulin said...

To Tony: I hope that this year demonstrates what "Business users ... have to worry about". First - a broker could strip off CS from 5 billions, then BearStreems, and today Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch have clearly demonstrated that an army of clerks cannot work properly w/o automated control. IT did the job and the business neglected it ( do not work for neither of these companies but know many people who DID)

Mulled Vine said...

I agree you don't necessarily need to talk to the business about SOA technology etc but you will have to speak to them about the new way projects will have to be done, about governance, about strategic responsibility as to opposed to "just do it" tactical mentalities, and mostly about why in the early days all their projects are so darn expensive.