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!

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