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SOA positives and pitfalls

SOA positives and pitfalls

Rolling out Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) involves more than just leveraging on technology, according to Bjorn Brauel, Software AG's vice president deputy CTO.

"SOA is an architectural style used to drive Business Process Management (BPM)," says Brauel. "While having methodologies and standards to build applications is not a new concept, I believe SOA is unprecedented because it is a convergence of mindset, methodology and technology."

"To achieve operational flexibility and agility, BPM models, automates and changes processes based on how the organization, not the IT function, thinks the business should evolve," Brauel notes. "From an IT perspective, that means providing flexible infrastructure to manage processes in response to change."

Paul Henaghan, senior vice president -- webMethods, Software AG Asia Pacific and Japan, cautions about defining SOA, "Deploying an ERP solution with service capabilities that subscribe to SOA principles does not necessarily translate into organization-wide SOA deployment."

Brauel agrees, "SOA is not a product you buy, but something you do as part of continuous process improvement in line with organizational objectives." He adds that SOA may also play a part in developing Web 2.0 services to give users a richer online experience.

Business case pitfall

"A pitfall that CIOs should look out for when rolling out SOA is to try making a business case for SOA," Brauel says. "Clearly, there's no business case for SOA by itself, and CIOs should describe SOA from a BPM perspective to other organizational stakeholders."

He stresses the need for CIOs to structure SOA around BPM, with an intuitive SOA roadmap that starts by defining a three-month business plan as a step towards achieving longer term goals. "This ensures that organizational stakeholders can more quickly see business value such as cost savings arising from the SOA process, instead of having to wait for example three years before seeing ROI."

While long-term key performance indicators (KPIs) may not be immediately visible, it is "very possible" for short-term KPIs to be measured after three months given that the enterprise is re-using existing assets for automated processes, Brauel notes. "From there, the roadmap can then project longer-term KPIs."

Balancing liberation and governance

A balance between 'liberation' and 'governance' is essential for service development, according to Brauel.

Too much liberation means that staff are allowed to develop services for themselves anytime without considering the needs of other organizational stakeholders. "This leads to an inward-focused mindset, where service components that may provide business value are not shared with the rest of the organization," he says.

On the other hand, too much governance can significantly stifle the creativity of staff, who may find ways to circumvent rules and regulations, he adds. "Providing the right level of governance involves having clearly-defined goals and instructions for organization-wide collaboration, while allowing flexibility on how services are developed."

Additionally, incentives are important in balancing liberation and governance for SOA. Brauel explains, "Staff should not be rewarded based on the number of lines of programming code they produce, but on how much they create and share services that can be re-used by others in the organization."

Different regional mindsets

Brauel notes that CIOs' mindsets on SOA differ between regions. "In the US, CIOs' agendas focus on BPM, rather than SOA," he says. On the other hand, European CIOs are mainly concerned with efficiency gains in IT departments. Hence, they start out new projects with an SOA perspective before "looking at BPM".

"Asian CIOs are relatively less enthusiastic about new IT initiatives due to tight IT budgets, and so try to get as much business value as possible out of existing infrastructure," Henaghan says. "Consequently, they are more focused on BPM."

Henaghan stresses that while SOA may evolve or even be called by a different name in future, the fundamental SOA principle of converging mindset, methodology and technology to develop new services is "here to stay".

"Software AG seeks to achieve EUR1 billion in annual revenue by 2010," says Henaghan. "We will work with customers to help them re-use existing IT infrastructure to create new services."

He notes that the Asia-Pacific (including Japan) presents the company with significant business opportunities. "While we have been active and successful in the Asia-Pacific, we have yet to achieve the levels of market penetration seen in our US and European operations."

Henaghan explains that the Asia-Pacific BPM software market is relatively less mature, as most enterprises are still engaged in "educational discussions" rather than active collaborations with vendors in BPM.

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