Organizations have invested in service-oriented architecture because it delivers proven advantages: decreasing time to deliver new capabilities, lowering development and maintenance costs, and improving the ability to share data and functionality across system and organizational silos. When applied to solve business problems, these advantages translate into a variety of business benefits, such as faster time to market for new products and improved customer service across multiple business channels. However, effective SOA governance is essential to achieve these benefits. Without SOA governance, companies can instead find themselves spending more time and money compared to traditional development and losing control of the expected business benefits as their SOA spins out of control.

By definition, SOA shifts the focus of IT from building monolithic applications to creating a suite of modular software services. Traditional development approaches created monolithic, tightly coupled applications designed for a single purpose. In contrast, SOA development results in modular, pluggable and ready-for-use services that can be discovered, shared and combined to support any number of business applications across the enterprise. However, it also results in a dramatic increase in the number of interdependent moving parts in the systems environment.

Without governance that provides visibility into those parts and effective guidance of service development and use, many problems can occur. Rather than creating a flexible and lean business applications platform, IT may instead create redundant services that cannot be shared because they are not discoverable, or services that are not designed with repeatable business capabilities in mind. Production performance can be unpredictable and problems difficult to trace, leading to the loss of confidence in shared services.

Even so, the business side of the enterprise may ask why SOA requires investment in a dedicated SOA governance framework, whereas previous development methodologies did not appear to require it. The answer is that previous application development paradigms did, in fact, incorporate governance around designing and building applications. However, governance had been “baked in” to the development process where application building was confined to self-contained development teams and application owners, and where cross-silo sharing was limited.

In contrast, SOA enables developers to explore services that come from outside their team. This requires greater alignment on business requirements and technology standards as well as coordination around new issues, such as who should fund the initial development of services that are designed to be shared across the enterprise. If governance issues are not sorted out, it negatively impacts people, processes and technology related to SOA adoption and expected business benefits.

Beyond IT

IT understands the broad importance of governance to SOA but, despite this knowledge, has at times treated SOA governance as an academic exercise, limited in scope to the enterprise architecture. At some companies, there simply has not been recognition that governance is a vital and value-added activity that directly drives the business benefits expected from SOA.

Savvy organizations understand that SOA governance is a management initiative that aligns people, processes and technology in ways that maximize the impact of SOA on business capabilities as well as the business investment in SOA development.

SOA governance helps organizations target value-producing objectives in three key areas.

1. Aligning SOA investments with business needs. The speed and flexibility advantages of SOA depend on having the right set of services readily available for use by projects building and connecting applications. Consequently, one of the most important decisions that SOA governance must address is – which services should we build? SOA governance enforces the principle that every service should be useful within a larger portfolio of services. Governance must therefore start with an inventory of existing services — classified by process, function and capability — particularly because SOA development often begins with a bottom-up, grassroots effort around the development of individual services. This cataloging enables a business to rationalize services and identify redundancies and gaps.

Addressing these gaps begins the process of ensuring that SOA investments align with business needs and forms the basis for addressing requests for new services from projects. Gap analysis can also generate business buy-in to SOA governance. By focusing on service development in projects that have widely visible impacts across the organization, IT can demonstrate the value of a well-governed SOA to the business.

SOA governance is an extension of enterprise IT governance. By proving how governance helps SOA development meet business needs, governance champions ensure that demand for SOA governance comes from a partnership of business and IT and is not simply a disconnected architectural exercise.

2. Maximizing ROI. SOA’s advantages can deliver a variety of business benefits. Practically, ROI on SOA is commonly measured in terms of cutting project costs and time which underlie all business benefits. Development costs and time are cut by gaining a flexible architecture comprised of repeatable business capabilities. SOA also trims expenses by reducing the number of components IT must maintain.

SOA governance maximizes ROI in SOA by making sure that the service portfolio is ready for use – services are easy to find, easy to understand and interoperable or easily adapted for use in diverse parts of the enterprise. Effective governance ensures that people are building services that can be shared in a practical manner by ensuring compliance with architectural and technology standards. Business analysts, architects and developers need to be made aware of available services. The process for on-boarding service consumers has to be rapid and painless. Finally, unavoidable interoperability mismatches between services and their consumers should be smoothed out.

To help foster a culture of reuse, SOA governance establishes the key performance indicators that track and guide service availability and service sharing.

3. Minimizing the operational risk. Leveraging shared services results in many of the advantages of SOA. However, sharing carries risk if it is not managed. This includes unauthorized or undocumented service consumption, unclear ownership and lack of expected quality of services. Distributed development can also result in differing security and auditing mechanisms across diverse service providers. It can even result in business disruption when service versions are changed, resulting in unforeseen and undocumented impact to existing service consumers.

After services are developed and deployed, governance revolves around the definition and enforcement of policies for controlling the deployment, utilization and operation of deployed services. By clearly defining service ownership and service-level agreements, governance improves accountability and minimizes finger-pointing. SOA governance drives the security technology and practices for consistent control over and visibility into service usage to prevent misuse or abuse. SOA governance also drives the technology and practices for rapid detection and resolution of application failures due to use of shared services. Finally, SOA governance guides change management to ensure that before services are modified, all the impacts of those changes to existing consumers are assessed and effectively managed.

SOA Success

With effective SOA governance, IT can increase productivity, reduce waste and increase confidence in the solutions it develops using SOA. SOA governance also provides both business and IT with visibility into the performance and ROI of service assets.

SOA governance embodies a number of basic best practices and includes both process and technology. It begins with thinking holistically about services that should be built to support the business and making decisions about ownership and funding of creation, operation and maintenance of shared services. It involves ensuring that services are built to interoperability standards and used correctly by consumers. And, it incorporates transparency into service-level expectations and effective change management around shared services.

As business gains insight into how SOA plays a role in a company’s ability to respond nimbly to market changes and gain competitive advantage, it becomes interested in making governance investments. At such organizations, governance is not driven solely by the enterprise architecture group. Instead, it is a management initiative where all constituencies are involved. Business is willing to not just fund SOA governance investments, but to roll up its sleeves and work with IT to develop a strategy where each service is part of a larger portfolio of business assets that accrue value to the bottom line.

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