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January 8, 2007

SOA to transform the way IT and the organization interact

While service-oriented architecture (SOA) is exciting the imagination more than any previous architectural strategy, there are still many aspects of the approach that need to be fully understood. Despite all the hype surrounding SOA, it is not yet the predominant operating model for many companies, but a growing number are beginning to trial it, especially technology and financial services firms.

By CBR Staff Writer

The adoption of SOA has significant potential to improve the value organizations derive from their IT investments, in terms of increased flexibility, improved use of assets, alignment with business objectives, and reduced integration costs. However, there is still a considerable degree of hype and misunderstanding around the topic, with consequent confusion as to the exact definition of a SOA, and more importantly, how to begin to realize these benefits.

SOA adoption continuing to gain momentum

A Butler Group survey of IT decision-makers identified that 8% had deployed SOA in a live environment, with a further 17% engaged in trials, and 36% in the process of evaluating the approach. The evidence is that organizations are most likely to first transfer internal business processes to SOA, rather than involve external stakeholders.

A recent survey of 90 end users in the US and western Europe, conducted by Datamonitor, identified that 30% of the respondents were deploying or trialing SOA, with adoption rates for larger organizations significantly higher than for smaller ones, and technology and financial services being the dominant verticals.

Clearly, with a step change in approach there will be technical issues, with the lack of in-house expertise often being cited as one of the major barriers to the adoption of SOA. Early adopters have also encountered problems around security, service performance, reliability, and data management. Security is a particular concern, especially as the IT function has spent a large amount of time, effort, and money on tackling security issues, and there are concerns that SOA might open up new gaps within the implemented systems. Simply restricting access to authorized personnel via standard access control mechanisms becomes impracticable in a service-oriented environment, and new standards are starting to evolve.

While there has been a significant focus on the mechanisms and technologies directly associated with SOA, there has been less discussion on the impact that the approach will have on the wider IT environment. The IT manager must start to prepare the IT infrastructure for these changes, and in particular for the performance demands of SOA.

The move to a layered, services-based environment means that flexibility becomes much more important, as does the ability to meet variable performance requirements. It is important that, in tandem with SOA adoption, the IT infrastructure is enhanced to cater for these new requirements, along with the provision of common infrastructure services.

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Start small, think big when deploying SOA

SOA represents a transformation in the way the organization operates, and executive sponsorship is therefore vital, as seen from many successful SOA implementations. Internal politics is often a major contributor to difficulties with SOA, especially as services and resources are now shared. There is a need for trust to be rebuilt by the IT department with the rest of the organization, especially as, in the past, IT has been perceived, wrongly in many instances, as an inhibitor of progress, and there will be skepticism about this latest initiative.

Starting with a small project that addresses a particular business problem can help to get the decision makers on board, although it is important to keep in mind the ultimate goal and have a plan as to how to evolve to SOA over the next five years.

The maturing of web services standards and technology has provided a mechanism for SOA to be successfully deployed, although standards advocated by one or a small group of vendors should be avoided where possible. From a business perspective, it is no longer a technology issue. It is a matter of developing an architecture and framework within which business problems can be defined, and solutions can be implemented in a coherent and repeatable way, exploiting reusable services.

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