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)!

Monday, September 01, 2008

PaaS Enables New ROI

If you haven't already checked out Amy Shuen's book, "Web 2.0: A Strategy Guide", you should grab a copy; it's worth the read. Amy discusses the trends around Web 2.0 in the clearest, most concise manner I could have hoped for. Enough bragging about her book - one of her diagrams inspired me to think about the effects that PaaS has on the Enterprise I.T. development model.

Amy pointed out that a version of the Long Tail lives in the I.T. application development world. Certain business problems (ie, order management) have a very real and significant value proposition; these systems are often purchased from ISV's. The next set of applications often have slightly less of an ROI and are often built by the I.T. custom development group. In many cases these are departmental applications or add-on's to the procured systems. Recently, new SaaS solutions are finding their way into the enterprise because they fulfill point-requirements and have a low-cost of entry.

In the past, this left lots of business problems in the hands of shadow I.T., or power-users. But all too often new systems concepts were taken to the I.T. review board and turned down because they didn't project an adequate ROI. The return on some of these systems may have been rewarding, but the initial investment (hardware, infrastructure licenses, long development cycles, etc.) drove down the overall ROI to the point where the idea was rejected. These systems are prime candidates for PaaS, where the initial investment is significantly decreased by the pre-hosted, pay-by-the-drink model. Once again, hosted platforms will likely be the key enabler of long tail opportunities.

The long tail model of reviewing new system requests is an interesting method for I.T. governance and planning committees to consider. It is my belief that if enterprise organizations fail to meet the needs of the long tail, they will be met by other 3rd party providers who will be all to willing to help!