posted 10 Mar 2008 in Volume 11 Issue 6
Workshop: maximising SOA investment
This workshop addresses foundation business imperatives underlyong service orientation, refines the discussion of SOA by enumerating seperate perspectives within a 'SOA Triad', and recommends actions to begin a successful SOA adoption journey.
The service-oriented architecture (SOA) phenomenon that is receiving so much exposure in the IT and business worlds is also generating an amazing amount of confusion, misunderstanding and skepticism. Yet, at its heart, SOA is about a fundamental restructuring of the software systems that have historically empowered our business successes.
It is unthinkable to envisage running a large enterprise without the power and speed afforded by computer automation! But at the same time, we have arrived at a basic dissatisfaction with the high total costs of ownership and the perception that the very business software and systems we depend on are proving to be inflexible and insufficiently responsive to constantly changing business realities.
Software engineering is now moving into a new era born out of the need to design systems with the same efficiency and success afforded by other engineering disciplines. Historically, we have turned to middleware to connect disparate systems in a point-to-point fashion, resulting in an inherently unproductive and reactive approach with prohibitive and budget-devouring costs. The software industry is realising that the inherent structural problems of delivering enterprise systems through middleware integration needs to be addressed to promote more flexible and maintainable software architectures.
Central to this orientation is the concept of a service – a reusable, discrete, core component of design, exposing its functionality via a well-defined interface, interacting across a communication infrastructure, which may be combined with other services to affect a business process. The same kind of architecture enables us to assemble cars or combine sub-assemblies to build a computer.
This workshop will identify significant level-setting foundation issues to support the quintessential reason we engage in computer automation: the business need to continue to adapt, to be successful, and to survive. The emerging reality and greatest benefit of service orientation is that it provides the dynamic capability to create innovation for managing change and empowering competitive advantage.
What’s all the commotion?
SOA explanations are provided from a variety of perspectives, many to enhance or highlight a vendor’s capabilities. Even with the flood of information, people are still confused. The essential aspects of SOA that you can build on as invariant concern service orientation (SO), a business strategy and enterprise structural orientation; SOA, the logical and physical design of SO systems; and service oriented technology, the technical infrastructure underlying SO systems.
SOA is more about design and culture than it is about technology. Too much of the conversation around SOA today is about SOA technology, focusing not on the architectural part of making SOA work, or the governance, quality, testing, or management aspects, but rather on the plumbing of getting services to communicate with each other.
The key to starting your SOA journey is to avoid confusing the technology that sits beneath the services level of abstraction (and the mechanisms by which services are accessed) with the service oriented architectural approach that aims to decouple the implementation from the consumption. Effective SOA focuses on sustainable architecture that allows for continuous change – an approach that is completely technology agnostic.
Many discussions of SOA start by plunging fully into the technology. This workshop adopts a business-first approach by addressing key issues to help business stakeholders understand SOA investment essentials so they can make an effective case for SOA return on investment. Understanding SOA can be a daunting task, even for the IT professional! Do your own poll: Ask technology professionals for a definition of SOA. Do you come away with a clearer understanding after the third or fourth answer?
If business stakeholders provide effective leadership to ensure that information technology is managed like any other critical asset, they can lead the charge to combat independent acquisitions of technologies for different aspects of a business. By avoiding a complex mix of disparate implementations, they can begin to reverse the ever-worsening ‘integration imperative’ – the need to deal with the high costs and complexity of making traditional applications interoperate.
The future of SOA in the enterprise is highly dependent on finding sponsors from corporate management who have grasped the efficacy of service orientation. Paul Allen in his book, Service Orientation – Winning Strategies and Best Practices, provides compelling motivation for leadership that supports business transformation: “Even moderately large companies can no longer afford to ‘just get by’ as they seek to cope with the challenges of the world of unforgiving change. Business is increasingly moving to a marketplace model. In this world, organisations collaborate together, consuming and offering services to maximise efficiency, better serve customers, and achieve long-term advantage.”
The dynamic business ecosystem
Business leaders should be aware of a number of significant issues that are raised by the adoption of service orientation. The sum total of these factors form a dynamic ecosystem influencing the vulnerability and survivability of the business and its need to maximise strategic thinking.
The inflection point
This is a unique era for both IT and business professionals – one of the most significant transformations in the history of business and its empowerment by information technology. An inflection point in mathematics represents a major change of direction. It is a point on a curve at which the curvature changes sign, where the curve measuring some output variable changes from negative to positive curvature.
We are at that very critical juncture now. Andrew Grove, previously chairman of the board of Intel Corporation, used the inflection point concept in his 1996 book to discuss his strategy for measuring what happens when massive change requires a company to adapt or fall by the wayside. Grove called such a moment a strategic inflection point: “An inflection point occurs where the old strategic picture dissolves and gives way to the new. It is the time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change, when competitors figure out what a company does best and then does it better and cheaper.”
Business leaders should embrace the inflection point as an opportunity to rise to new heights rather than give into the beginning of the end!
Survival of the fittest
The current dynamic pace of organisational adaptation is being driven by a wide array of factors that challenge a business’s ability to survive:
Rapid development of commercial technology;
The surge of global markets;
Major deregulation and commoditisation impacts;
Reengineered, quality-oriented organisations;
Corporate cultures that tolerate inflexibility (service-adverse organisations);
Industries prone to acquisition and merger activity;
Inability to detect market changes (causing companies to fail at a faster rate);
Unrelenting pressures to outmanoeuvre newer, more nimble competitors.
All companies are under increasing pressure to innovate. Free-market economies operate by the same rules as organic systems in nature – referred to by Geoffrey Moore as ‘Dealing with
Competition for scarce resources of customer purchases creates hunger that stimulates innovation;
Customer preferences for one innovation over another create a form of natural selection that leads to survival-of-the fittest outcomes;
Each new business generation restarts the competition from a higher standard of competence than the prior generation;
Thus, over time, successful companies must evolve their competence or become marginalised.
Michael Porter’s theory of competitive strategy deals with how one company can gain a competitive advantage through a distinctive way of competing. His work provides important understanding about the dynamics of the current business ecosystem and why the adoption of service orientation can and will be so important to a business’s survival. For Porter, an organisation’s successful competitive strategy will thrive if it establishes the following goals:
Identify an attractive strategic position;
Ensure this strategic position can be sustained against competitors;
Devise processes to enable the whole organisation to implement the competitive advantage;
Build a few core competencies to sustain competitive advantage and strategically outsource non-core activities.
An organisation’s choice of strategy provides the capability to control that fate through the power of executing an optimum competitive strategy.
For any industry that produces a product or service, five competitive threats define the rules of competition and must be dealt with to create a competitive strategy. For every threat that Porter describes, there is a SOA impact that existing firms or new entrants can use to neutralise business advantage.
Sense and respond
One aspect of the dynamic business ecosystem is a new managerial approach to strategy called Sense and Respond (S&R). It provides, in contrast to the traditional strategy, Make and Sell (M&S), an elaboration on the threats to business survival driven by the power of the buyers.
In stark contrast, the S&R approach captures the essence of what modern companies need to ensure their own survival through innovation. The S&R strategic style has far-reaching ramifications that complement what SOA addresses. SOA can provide an effective empowerment for adaptability that enables companies to pursue this managerial approach to strategy. If your competition has figured out how to master the S&R strategic model and starts to organise and deploy their IT resources through the full embodiment of the SOA triad, the true meaning of survival of the fittest will become compelling.
A company’s strategic imperatives must be driven by a deep understanding of how customer needs are changing. Then, the company must be able to execute quickly to seize the opportunity. If you are managing your organisation as an adaptive system, you will need to have agile IT capabilities to support this strategic style. SOA anyone?
The adaptive enterprise – new business building
Modern companies frequently make independent decisions about technologies for different aspects of their business over the life of the business and are faced with tying disparate systems together at a later time. With SOA, you can move away from creating the classic IT applications which tightly bind functionality, business processes/rules, and data stores into monolithic stovepipes, each supported on a different computation platform.
One of the most important aspects of SOA, ‘separation of Concerns’, allows the kind of modularity that decomposes business applications into separate services independent of their infrastructure, avoiding the inflexibility of the tightly coupled applications each running on separate computing platform. These services can then be available as a toolbox of discrete capability building blocks, with different functionality, all capable of working together (through a service contract) either as smaller individual pieces, or in larger assemblies of multiple pieces.
Our IT landscape would begin to look more like the next graphic, providing the ‘loose coupling’ characteristic of SOA. The individual blocks marked ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, etc., represent discrete process functionality that has been separated from a single application and is available as a service to be used where and when needed.
The disassembled resources can be used for creating completely new business capabilities supporting the best solution – for example, a new hybrid credit system or WebCredit portal. Discrete services available to the enterprise instead of bound up in individual applications, provide the ability to respond to an opportunity which support the innovation needed for strategic advantage. You could also use services outside of the enterprise from partners or other service vendors (see Figure three).
Part of the reason for SOA’s inconsistent adoption is that SOA is all about architecture, and doing architecture well is challenging. Despite how some vendors may portray it, you can’t just buy a product and expect it to miraculously create the services you need along with the agile architecture and organisation to support them.
SOA is not just reshaping how software is written, or how enterprise architecture is conducted, it is about the very reorganisation of business and its empowerment of technology to achieve the competitive advantage. Experience has shown that successful SOA adoption requires companies to spend more time to change the way they do IT, to address their strategic position, and to structure their business architecture, than to just implement technology to support short-term needs.
To meet the demands of SOA adoption, I recommend the following actions to guide the transformation process:
Organise for SOA
Introducing SOA is a significant change-management challenge. The organisational infrastructure must be consciously designed, planned, and managed to effectively support SOA adoption and excellence. The adoption of enterprise SOA has been slow, often because many organisations are focused on tactical project-centred implementations as opposed to strategic capability development. SOA is a strategic activity!
Most major IT consultancies agree that successful SOA adoption can take three to five years if the appropriate planning and execution are adopted early. In order to mitigate risk and to manage the SOA transformation, I recommend that a Centre of Excellence (CoE) support model be formally established to provide three types of value to your transition efforts:
A body of expertise;
A vehicle for change;
A championing of excellence.
The CoE will provide the early ‘scaffolding’ to support the organisational infrastructure for SOA adoption, internal capability development, and SOA excellence. CoE capabilities should also be incorporated in your SOA adoption roadmap.
Create a SOA roadmap
The choice of path for your SOA transition will take a number of different directions based on the fundamental requirements of your enterprise. Your roadmap should be tailored so that it can optimise your business objectives and strategy, incorporate particular pain points causing the most negative business impact, be based on the degree of your SOA maturity, and address capabilities that you will need to demonstrate positive value for whatever scale of project you undertake.
The SOA adoption roadmap should focus on immediate issues and needs to allow the basics to be put in place as a starting point with the aim of building a more comprehensive enterprise-wide roadmap as SOA maturity is attained.
Choose a formal SOA reference framework
A systematic and engineering-oriented methodology will ensure the enterprise follows a consistent enterprise-wide SOA blueprint, guided by a formal reference framework, incorporating relevant industry standards, particularly those supporting automation and sharing, and supported by, and updated with, best practices and the latest techniques. See, for example, CBDI-SAE™ methodology in the reference section.
Build towards an enterprise-wide SOA
Using your SOA adoption roadmap and SOA CoE, conduct SOA implementations on a project-by-project basis matched to the primary SOA capabilities required for increasing maturity. Integrate each project in a way that supports strategic rather than tactical endpoints.
Summary and conclusions
There is robust connection between survival imperatives driving businesses to innovate and the systematic and effective way to sustain the agility and innovation through a shift to service orientation and sense-and-respond strategies. Establishing an adaptive enterprise to deal with the forces in your business environment allows you to begin organising for SOA to support sustained success.
The SOA discussion is best framed by emphasising basic business realities to bring into clearer focus the sought-after answer to the questions: What is SOA? Why do I need it?
By making these business realities more concrete, a coherent focus on and understanding of what is driving all the SOA commotion emerges. For the next step in your SOA journey, the recommendations will help establish SOA success accelerators and multiple entry points for SOA adoption, all potentially to be employed in concert to ensure the success of your SOA investments and the flexibility needed to support continuous competitive advantage.
An excellent treatment of service oriented architecture can be found in Service Oriented Architecture Demystified: A pragmatic approach to SOA for the IT executive (IT Best Practices Series), by Girish Juneja, Blake Dournaee, Joe Natoli, Steve Birkel, and Jorgen Thelin, Intel Press, 2007.
Patrick Heinig, Mclean, VA, US, is an independent SOA consultant specialising in facilitating SOA adoption and is a practitioner of the CBDI Service Architecture and Engineering (SAE™) methodology. He is contributing to the review and publication of the Practical Guide to Federal Service Oriented Architecture (PGFSOA) and has over 30 years of experience in information system design and implementation. For more information elaborating on the topics presented in this workshop, he can be contacted at email@example.com.