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Identifying and Overcoming the Challenges of Adopting SOA

  • Sa'd Kanan, Joanne Page
  • July 01 2007, 1:00am EDT

The pace at which business is conducted has increased dramatically over the past decade. A recent study indicates that the timeframes for completing certain transactions - such as airline operations and call center inquiries - have been condensed from days and hours to seconds. Customers now demand instant and integrated information. They want to access data anytime, anywhere. In order to respond to changing customer needs, stay competitive and gain market share, companies are adopting service-oriented architecture (SOA).

SOA reduces the complexity associated with integrating applications and processes by standardizing the way IT assets are used with common components and processes. By focusing on delivery of integrated business services rather than single unit performance, SOA can provide real-time benefits to customers and stakeholders, but SOA is not without its challenges.

The Top 10 Challenges of Organizations Adopting SOA

1. Misunderstanding SOA

SOA is not a magic bullet; nor is it a new idea. However, it is a way to improve service to business users and speed delivery time to market. SOA allows for more effective process change with less complexity than other approaches, as shared services streamline business processes. Unfortunately, many companies are not structured to easily adopt or implement SOA. The hype in the marketplace as to what SOA can do - the magic bullet syndrome - is not providing enough guidance for companies to capitalize on its prospects. SOA initiatives must follow a "think big, start small" approach. To effectively accomplish this, an SOA governance model is a must. SOA governance depends on integrated management to join business units and IT together.

2. Isolated Implementation of SOA

Too often, service teams build SOA isolated or disconnected from the work that the approach is designed to impact. A centralized team builds what they think developers should use, rather than design an approach that is both appropriate and integrated. Many companies procure software packages and embark on large SOA initiatives without defining their SOA strategy or understanding what SOA will deliver. The cross-functional integration of business processes is necessary to support a value-generating activity chain. To achieve greater effectiveness, SOA implementation teams should consider executing a demonstration approach: start small with a low risk/high value proposition, demonstrate positive results from the solution and replicate on a larger scale.

3. No Culture of Reuse

For SOA to be successful, companies must foster a culture of reuse, where developers and line managers use the same services toward a common goal. In some situations, developers do not see the value of using SOA. If they are not required to use available services, they will frequently want to build their own custom applications or continue to use existing applications, rather than using another's creation. Corporate culture must promote cross-functional communication to break down barriers and demonstrate the importance of SOA. Without collaboration and interaction, companies will have a difficult time realizing the full potential and reaping the benefits of SOA.

4. Lack of Strategic Alignment

Many IT initiatives have not been fully linked to a company's strategic goals and objectives. IT services often focus on a specific application to solve finite problems or satisfy the needs of a particular business unit. The nature of the SOA approach dictates horizontal integration of business processes across business unit boundaries. To support an organization's critical success factors, SOA must align people, process and technology.

5. Inability to Anticipate and Capitalize on Change

It is no longer enough for business and IT to respond to change; instead, they must move in lockstep to anticipate and capitalize on change. Companies are now focusing their service strategies on a business approach tied to the customer. Understanding customers - who they are, what they want and how to sell to them - is vitally important if companies want to effectively capitalize on changes in the global marketplace. Companies must closely monitor customer preferences and profiles and quickly incorporate solutions to satisfy change throughout the company.

6. Traditional Business Structure is Not Conducive to SOA

Consider how your company is structured when formulating a strategy to implement SOA. In a traditional functional organization, the design of the reporting relationships and ownership of business activities and outputs are based upon functional expertise, such as manufacturing, marketing, customer service and order management. Individual organizational functions support each of the vertical business units of the company. However, if SOA is to be effective, a company requires a value-chain process based on contributing activities that level silos and deliver services horizontally as well as vertically.

7. Organizational Barriers

For SOA to be successful, you must coordinate and align business functions with IT. Companies may be hindered by an inability or reluctance to integrate systems across departmental or functional lines. They may also discover duplication in delivery of services or conflict in policies and procedures. Other internal barriers may stem from lack of understanding about how SOA provides benefit or applies to discrete departmental functions, as well as to overall company goals. Multilateral buy-in is necessary to overcome these organizational barriers and to break down silos.

8. Resistance to Standardization

Defining technology standards, usage guidelines and overall principles of adoption is a complex task for companies. However, a robust SOA must be scalable, manageable and reusable. To successfully implement and govern SOA, a governance model must be put in place to manage and control the lifecycle of a service from its inception to its expiration. The model also needs to protect shared services development through ownership of information and guidelines. The development community is often reluctant and resistant to this standardization for fear of losing control or oversight in design and delivery of custom technology.

9. Lack of Integrated Technology

SOA is all about using open standard technology and requires technical interfaces that can be applied consistently and compatibly across business processes. By providing the guiding principles and introducing new competency standards, SOA helps companies proactively address the technology and vendor products that exist within the company at a granular level. This standards-based compatibility also protects shared services development and prevents or minimizes proprietary product ownership by vendors, eliminating vendor lock-in.

10. Value to the Business

An organization needs to consider the desired benefits of SOA and engage the appropriate groups to successfully implement the approach. Services can be combined and leveraged to create new business processes that make the company more agile. In addition, organizations need to expand the scope of SOA outside IT to ensure greatest impact. IT executives will need to clearly articulate the solution parameters (translate a highly technical approach into terms a nontechnical stakeholder can understand) and benefits of SOA to their business counterpoints in order to build the business partnership that is essential in order to realize the full value of SOA to the organization.

In order to stay competitive, more and more companies are looking to SOA as a possible solution to meet the growing demands of a sophisticated marketplace. As companies begin to undertake the task of transforming to a SOA model, they should recognize that SOA is as much of an organizational change as a technological change and plan and execute accordingly. Based upon the top 10 challenges listed, companies should approach SOA initiatives from a people, process and technology perspective. Practically speaking, this translates into an implementation roadmap that includes not only the assessment, solution design, development and delivery of services, but the executive championship, cross-functional business process design/coordination/ownership, governance and organizational change management solution components as well.

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