SOA, governance and the Trough of Disillusionment™

All shiny new things in IT go through a cycle of boom and bust before becoming an established and useful part of the enterprise IT world.

This cycle is as much about the need for marketing departments and the press to have something new to write about as it is about ‘real’ issues.  The pattern is so well established that Gartner even has graphic to capture where technologies are in what they call the hype cycle – the lowest point before technologies become generally understood and used is called the trough of disillusionment.

Service Oriented Architecture is no exception and Brenda Michelson of Elemental Links even celebrates the possible arrival of SOA at the trough of disillusionment as a good sign!  Moreover, I suspect that with SOA the trough may be worse than with most because it is more fundamental to the enterprise than ‘point’ technologies and attempts to address the fundamental issues of alignment with business strategic and IT agility.

I contrast SOA with point technologies because SOA is actually about changing the way IT solutions are created, deployed and maintained – not providing a single (however big) solution to a single (however big) business problem.  In essence, it is about enterprise architecture (and architects) and how this fits into the whole business.  This means that with SOA there should be no such thing as a stand alone project.  A stand alone project is inherently suboptimal as it removes the opportunity to reuse existing services and to expose further services.   It may take organisations many years to get there but this is the final destination.  This means that the organisational impacts of SOA (both human and technological) are in the long run the most important aspect of SOA.

What has obfuscated this point to a degree is that most discussions around these issues are gathered into the term governance.  Unfortunately, using the term governance has put off many of the people who should be interested – perhaps governance suggests discussions on how to organise committees!   Furthermore, the term has to a degree been appropriated by vendors with products which assist in the technological aspects of governance.  And finally, there isn’t a single clean solution to governance as it is inherently tied into the way each organisation does its business which makes it hard for the press to get to grips with it.

All of which doesn’t take away the fact that governance is where SOA success will happen or not.  This of course does not mean that we now need a big-bang SOA Governance investment.  To quote Fill Bowen from IBM speaking at a presentation/discussion on governance hosted by the SOA Consortium at its European event back in June:

“your SOA governance [should be] based on the level of SOA effort. So putting a
Cadillac SOA governance system in place when your SOA effort is targeted at just
trying to walk seems to be a little bit of overkill.”


Posted in governance, Imported, Industry trends, SOA.