The SOA Buzz
CIOs can't avoid SOA today. Research firms and the business press trumpet its ability to make companies agile and efficient. Vendors apply the label, often speciously, to help sell their products. No matter where CIOs turn, they hear the same message: You must deploy an SOA — quickly — or be at a competitive disadvantage.
Indeed, there are advantages to adopting the SOA approach even if you're not at the stage at which CISR says enterprises can reap its full benefits. "If you deploy SOA-based technology before your organization is ready, you might still get a more efficient integration system in IT," says Ron Schmelzer, a senior analyst at SOA consultancy ZapThink. Implementing SOA concepts, even in a limited fashion like creating Web services, also "helps create a common vocabulary so the business and IT groups start moving in the same direction", notes Judith Hurwitz, CEO of the consultancy Hurwitz & Associates.
But while you might reap some positives from a premature SOA deployment, says Jim McGrane, former CIO (now VP) of paper manufacturer MeadWestvaco, you might harvest some negatives too. "Flopping a Web services interface on a bad process just makes it more visible," he says.
Understanding why your organization may not be ready for a complete SOA approach will help the CIO figure out what SOA-approach benefits can be gained at his organization's current maturity level.
From Silos to Business Modularity
Even if they don't know it, Ross says, most successful enterprises are moving through the maturity stages that CISR's research has identified. Today, most companies are in Stage 2: standardized technology. Throughout the 1990s, it became clear that Stage 1 — business silos with IT efforts focused on specific departmental needs — created a mountain of overhead and support requirements. That level of complexity, which came to characterize the early days of IT, could never support enterprise growth (not to mention the fact that it cost lots of money). This led most enterprises to adopt standard platform technologies wherever possible, using just one or two PC configurations, a standard database technology for all departments or the same type of hardware and OS for all servers.
The third stage, standardized business processes, is where many advanced enterprises are today. Here, the business is viewed holistically, and IT and business leaders see themselves as partners.
The fourth stage, which very few enterprises have entered to date, is business modularity. Here, business processes and their supporting technologies become modules that can be reused for efficiency and recombined for agility — the quintessential promise of SOA. Organizations know which processes should be local to specific business units and which should be standard across the enterprise — and the architecture supports the mix.
"Going from Stage 1 to 2 is not rocket science," says McGrane. Although it requires real effort, the tactics and strategies for successful platform standardization are now well-known by vendors, consultants and IT staff. But "going from Stage 2 to 3 requires organizational change and business accountability", McGrane says, "and that's a lot harder", And the move to Stage 4 is even more difficult. "It requires a redefinition of what you're doing as a company," he says.
Getting from Stage 1 to Stage 2 is mainly a job for the IT department, with the promised ROI of cost reduction. Moving to Stages 3 and 4, however, requires a fundamental shift in focus — from how IT can fulfil immediate and defined business unit needs to developing business processes that can be delivered through flexible, modular IT services, with the promised ROI of enterprise agility.
"The point is not just to manage costs but to shift the enterprise. If the CEO and CFO don't understand this, you're dead," McGrane says.
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