Study Highlights SOA Herd Mentality
A recent study from market watcher Gartner Inc. suggests that in some cases SOA adopters might be service-enabling chiefly for the sake of service-enabling.
In approximately 40 percent of cases, Gartner said, adopters don't make any attempt to quantify the results of their SOA implementations. One reason for this, according to the firm, is that shops are pursuing SOA strategies without first identifying the business benefits of doing so. This also explains why a number of shops aren't moving to SOA; fully half of non-SOA users say that they can't make a business case for adopting SOA.
"Many companies come to SOA with excessive expectations, such as immediately achieving quicker project cycles, but users often are not aware of the efforts, resources and time needed to achieve these benefits," said Massimo Pezzini, research vice president and fellow at Gartner, in a statement. "Consequently, some SOA projects are perceived to have failed when, in fact, there are simply no well-established metrics to evaluate success. Therefore, sometimes the benefits are there, but people keep arguing how much better things are, and whether any improvement is really linked to SOA."
Gartner suggests that SOA adopters start small, identifying specific business benefits and focusing, as part of an iterative effort, on achieving them.
Once a shop focuses on and starts to realize a specific benefit, it can cross it off its list and move on to another item -- or (perhaps as a consequence of changing business conditions) decide to add new benefits.
The key, Gartner said, is to avoid reflexive thinking: If implementing SOA for the sake of implementing SOA isn't a viable strategy, neither for that matter is a knee-jerk dismissal of the benefits of SOA as ambiguous or unattainable.
"Under the pressure of technology vendors and with a generally too-optimistic view of the possible benefits, organizations tend to over-spend on technology but under-spend from an organizational and governance viewpoint, so they come to the conclusion that SOA is expensive and doesn't deliver," said Paolo Malinverno, research vice president at Gartner, in a statement.
In all cases, Gartner said, shops must identify metrics that enable them to quantify the benefits of service-enablement. "Organizations must measure and communicate the success of SOA projects continuously in terms of the positive business outcomes achieved or the negative business outcomes avoided," Pezzini said. "If no one knows what SOA is good for, it will be seen as just another fashion wave, and the SOA project will be at risk."
Among other measurable SOA-derived benefits, Pezzini and Malinverno cited improved efficiency, particularly with respect to business processes execution. "Isolating the business logic from the functional application work enables a clearer view of what a process is, and the rules to which it adheres," the Gartner statement said. "This can be measured by lower process administrative costs, higher visibility on existing/running business processes and reduced number of manual, paper-based steps; better service-level effectiveness; quicker implementation of process iterative or of variants of the same process for different contexts."
Other measurable benefits include quicker time to market and shorter (overall) project cycles, chiefly stemming from SOA's focus on modularity and reuseability. Ditto for an overall reduction in the total cost of application development and maintenance, Gartner said: "A successful and well-governed SOA project brings these costs down, with considerably less organizational disruption. This cost is already measured in every IT department, straight out of IT budget data. Another measure is the reduced number of staff doing application development and maintenance, or the higher productivity of existing staff, such as application development or maintenance."
Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.