Welcome back! In recent columns I have discussed the technical foundations and benefits of service-oriented architecture (SOA); this month we consider the organizational implications of SOAs. While technical aspects of SOAs have received most of the public attention thus far, their organizational implications may be most important. Here are some emerging themes gathered from organizations that are pioneering SOAs.

The Governance Challenge

One of the key organizational themes for SOAs is a requirement for some type of centralized or concerted governance of SOAs.

Inherent in the implementation of SOAs is the sharing of runtime services by different clients. Sharing of resources, by definition, requires governance. Imagine you built a Web service to provide customer order status information. Who should be allowed to invoke this service? If the service is invoked by customers outside your funding organization, who will pay for new hardware when the load increases and performance degrades? If you want to modify the service, which users have a say? It is easy to see that similar questions can be asked across the IT life cycle from funding and requirement definition all the way to support. Now, extend these questions to every shared service within an SOA, and you have a genuine governance challenge.

For these reasons, SOAs typically emerge first within organizations already adept at handling these types of issues. While several organizational approaches may work, here are some of the common structures of these early SOA adopters:

  • Shared architecture team or architectural review board with a single, coherent vision for their SOA and for the overall application architecture for their enterprise
  • Shared development and support groups to design, build and run the most common sets of services in the SOA
  • Shared project management office to help manage the day-to-day interdependencies of multiple project teams who are invoking common SOA resources
  • Shared change control structure to help manage change requests across the SOA
  • Quality of service agreements to specify the maintenance and availability of shared services in the SOA
  • Indirect or central funding of the above groups - as opposed to direct business funding

In best-practice examples, the business owners participate directly in these structures, helping keep the organization highly attuned to the needs of the business. This ensures that the SOA vision is one defined and shared by all. These practices help these organizations successfully address a key paradox of SOAs: in order for business owners to capture the flexibility and speed promised by SOAs, they have to relinquish some control over some of their IT capabilities.

SOAs: A Framework for an Improved IT Life Cycle

Those organizations who have or are willing to adopt strong governance models will be best positioned to realize the benefits of an improved IT life cycle:

  • Improved speed in application delivery
  • Expanded flexibility and capability to meet the needs of the business units
  • Improved efficiency and lower total cost of ownership

In an SOA framework, development is typically composed of the following activities:

  • Creation of individual services (e.g., a Web service to update the status of a customer order or authenticate a customer)
  • Orchestration of services into business processes (e.g., the end-to-end processing of an order)
  • Assembly of services into composite applications (e.g., an order-to-cash portal)

The extent to which this approach changes and improves the IT life cycle is still to be determined - companies who have pioneered SOAs cite a series of benefits, some focused on speed and agility, some focused on efficiency:

  • Business process focused development - Services abstract technological complexity. It is fairly intuitive for a business process analyst to think in terms of orchestrated sets of services mapping closely to the activities that make up the business process. For example, the order management process may be the combination of services such as "Create_Order," "Authorize_Credit" and others orchestrated by a business process management engine. The language of IT starts to sound more familiar. Organizations that have applied the services approach to process mapping report a more natural and more productive interaction between business and IT. They also find a renewed focus on business process architecture skills.
  • Iterative and interactive development - In an SOA, composite applications made of loosely coupled sets of relatively small runtime services enable smaller, compartmentalized development efforts. IT and business partners can iterate more effectively from design to deployment, in relatively short time frames, helping them ensure a strong alignment between business needs and capabilities delivered.
  • Accelerated life cycle - In a well-designed SOA, development teams leverage sets of common services helping them cut valuable time off the development cycle. Standards-based interfaces also help ease integration and further reduce time to deployment.
  • Distributed and concurrent development - In an SOA, disparate groups can work independently, with consistent and predictable architectural components, thereby lowering the coordination cost among them. With a reduced need for architectural and managerial oversight, development efforts can be more distributed and can occur in parallel.
  • Maintainability and expandability - Support organizations gain flexibility from the ability to localize and contain maintenance efforts to specific sets of services. Moreover, this compartmentalization will make it easier to modify and extend the services offered. Good SOAs must be designed to change.

This has been a quick overview of the organizational implications of SOAs. See you next month!

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