SOA success, and what causes it

I was recently pointed to an article in Mainframe Executive magazine written by David Linthicum on the subject of “Mainframe SOA: When SOA Works/When SOA fails”.

I think the friend who suggested I read it was making mischief, knowing my views on the subject of SOA and guessing (correctly) that this article would wind me up.

In summary, the article says that SOA is a large and complex change to your core architecture and working practices and procedures, and that the success or failure is dictated by questions such as executive buy-in/resourcing/funding/skills, and not technology selection.

The truth about success with SOA is that it has little to do with the technology you want to drag into the enterprise to make SOA work, and more to do with the commitment to the architectural changes that need to occur

I have two problems with the opinions stated in this article. The first is to do with changing attitudes to SOA, and the second with the technology comments.

Let me first state that I am well aware that if a company wants to adopt an enterprise-wide SOA strategy designed to take maximum long-term benefit from this new way of leveraging IT investments, then this requires all ofthe areas brought up in the article to be addressed – skills, management buy-in, political will, funding and a strategic vision coupled with a tactical roadmap. I have no beef with any of this.

But I would contend that the world has changed from two years ago. The financial constraints all companies are experiencing have more or less forced the long-term strategic play onto the back burner for many. Some analysts actually like to claim that SOA is dead, a statement designed to be controversial enough to gain attention but to some extent grounded in the fact that a lot of companies are pulling back from the popular SOA-based business transformation strategies of the past. In fact, SOA is absolutely not dead, but it has changed. Companies are using SOA principles to implement more tactical projects designed to deliver immediate benefits, with the vague thought of one day pulling these projects together under a wider strategic, enterprise-wide SOA banner.

So, as an example, today a company might look at a particular business service such as ‘Create Customer’, or ‘Generate Invoice’, and decide to replace the 27 versions of the service that exist in its silos today with a single shared service. The company might decide to use SOA principles and tools to achieve this, but the planning horizon is definitely on the short term – deliver a new level of functionality that will benefit all users, and help to reduce ongoing cost of ownership. While it would have been valid a few years ago to counsel this company to deliver this as part of an overarching shift to an SOA-oriented style of operations, today most companies will say that although this sounds sensible, current circumstances dictate that focus must remain on the near term.

The other issue I have with this article is the suggestion that SOA success is little to do with the technology choice. Given that the topic here was not just SOA but mainframe SOA, I take particular exception to this. There are a wide range of SOA tools available, but in the mainframe arena the quality and coverage of the tools vary widely. For example, although many SOA tools claim mainframe support, this may in actuality simply be anMQ adapter ‘for getting at the mainframe’. Anyone taking this route is more than likely to fail with SOA, regardless of how well it has taken on the non-technical issues of SOA. Even for those SOA tools with specific mainframe support, some of these offer environments alien to mainframe developers, thereby causing considerable problems in terms of skills utilization. It is critical that whatever technology IS chosen, itcan be used by CICS or IMS-knowledgable folk as well as just disributed specialists. Then there is the question of how intuitive the tools are. Retraining costs can destroy an SOA project before it even gets going.

For anyone interested, there is a free Lustratus report on selecting mainframe SOA tools available from the Lustratus store. However, I can assure companies that, particularly for mainframe SOA, technology selection absolutely IS a key factor for success, and that while all the other transformational aspects of SOA are indeed key to longer term, enterprise-wide SOA there are still benefits to be gained with a more short-term view that is more appropriate in today’s economic climate.

Steve

Posted in best practices, CICS, enterprise architecture, IBM, Imported, Industry trends, Integration, legacy systems, SOA.

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