Leading European IT research and advisory organisation, Butler Group, believes that whilst Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is exciting the imagination more than any other previous architectural strategy, there are still many aspects of the approach that need to be fully understood.
A new report – Planning and Implementing SOA - Ensuring the successful deployment of a services-based approach – identifies that, despite all the hype surrounding SOA, it is not yet the predominant operating model for more than a few organisations, but a growing number are beginning to trial the approach, especially larger organisations and enterprises in the Technology and Financial Services sectors.
"The adoption of SOA has significant potential to improve the value organisations derive from their IT investments, in terms of increased flexibility, improved use of assets, alignment with business objectives, and reduced integration costs," says Mike Thompson, Business Process Management (BPM) Practice Director and co-author of the study. "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 realise these benefits."
Whilst still mainly in the proof-of-concept or pilot phase at many organisations, the adoption of SOA is continuing to gain momentum despite the challenges. 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 suggests that organisations 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 trialling SOA, with adoption rates for larger organisations 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 authorised personnel via standard access control mechanisms becomes impracticable in a service-oriented environment, and new standards are starting to evolve.
"Whilst 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."
SOA represents a transformation in the way the organisation operates, and executive sponsorship is therefore vital says the Butler Group, 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 organisation, especially as in the past IT has been perceived, wrongly in many instances, as an inhibitor of progress, and there will be scepticism 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," Thompson concludes.