Before going full speed ahead into service-oriented architecture (SOA) bliss, it’s important to first learn how to utilize assessment tools to define the current organizational and technological states. As part of that assessment process, maturity models can be useful in helping to coordinate a consistent set of changes across all functional dimensions of the company. Organizations must also have a firm grasp on which reference architectures best enable development using supporting standards and specifications in order to set the framework for understanding significant relationships within the SOA environment. Combined, these elements construct a customized SOA roadmap – one that, if navigated one step at a time, will save money, limit aggravation and ensure that your time is well spent.

 

Assessing SOA Readiness

 

Many organizations that think they will benefit from SOA often don’t, or can’t. While there are no hard and fast rules about what makes the perfect SOA deployment, there are some general guidelines for assessing SOA-ready environments:

 

  • Clearly defined services: Companies must be able to organize their operations into well-defined services; if you can’t define your services, you don’t need SOA.
  • Measuring time versus business value: If the amount of work it takes to orchestrate and choreograph services is significantly more than their value, SOA isn’t for you. The value of services come not from the way they are built, but through the realization of business benefits that only comes through extended usage.

Once you have determined that SOA is right for you, it is essential that organizational changes are given structure so they can be easily coordinated across all functional dimensions of the organization. One way to do this is by applying what is called an SOA maturity model, a communication tool that outlines how the organization will evolve along various business and technical dimensions as more knowledge and experience is attained.

 

The Nuts and Bolts

 

An SOA maturity model will provide insight into various dimensions of your SOA implementation and serve as a barometer of the relative maturity within these different areas. It can serve as a balanced guide on how to improve the overall SOA implementation by helping you focus on key areas and disciplines. Moreover, the model can be used as a yardstick to take stock of the organization’s current state and develop a transition plan to help reach the desired state.

 

There are five key benefits to adopting an SOA maturity model:

 

  1. Provides the organization with the necessary insight needed to understand and quantify the changes that need to happen, based on a systemic perspective;
  2. Assists the organization in managing expectations of the benefits that can be realized at each level of organizational maturity;
  3. Helps assess how the organization is implementing SOA;
  4. Saves money by minimizing the chances of the organization pursuing a single change driver while the rest of the system resists the change; and
  5. Maximizes the chances that the SOA implementation will be sustainable over the long term by ensuring all aspects of the organization support the change in the SOA space.

Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty

 

The basis of the SOA maturity model is the capability maturity model integration (CMMI) process improvement approach, which is used in the software industry to measure the maturity of an organization’s software development process. The SOA maturity model incorporates the following five levels:

 

Level 1: Initial Services (Functionality)

 

At this basic level, the thought of SOA architecture has just entered the organizational mindset and is, for the most part, an experimental activity. During this phase of organizational development, the focus will be on:

 

  • Platform-dependent integration among various applications through point-to-point services,
  • R&D experimentation with various SOA technology approaches,
  • SOA stovepipes (services that are not discoverable across the enterprise or the value chain) for future implementations,
  • Portal implementations of services derived from legacy applications,
  • Custom integrations through third-party service-oriented engines (e.g., Microsoft BizTalk, IBM WebSphere, etc.),
  • Creation of a limited number of Web services that have external value and
  • Small pilot SOA projects that don’t necessary have significant ROI.

Level 2: Architected Services (Cost-Effectiveness)

 

This level of SOA maturity is where agile and loosely coupled services are engineered and development and deployment costs begin to show an ROI. Multiple applications within the enterprise are now integrated using reliable message-based infrastructure based on open standards. Identification of services is most often done using a bottom-up approach from within the application portfolio. Several critical success factors need to be taken into account while designing for level-two maturity:

 

  • Support for heterogeneity and distributed systems,
  • Reliable messaging, both asynchronous and synchronous,
  • Ease of deployment and provisioning,
  • Database integration through federated services and metadata,
  • Versioning and deprecation of services,
  • Internal security within a common namespace and
  • Performance management, monitoring and evaluation.

It is a good idea, at this time, for the CTO or technology executive heading up this initiative to create a knowledge center for the organization that sets guidelines and helps employees adhere to SOA design principles.

 

Level 3: Business and Collaborative Services (Responsiveness)

 

The third level of SOA maturity is reached when service orchestrations are self-contained and fine-grained enough to function as an independent service, yet agile enough to be part of process choreography. While the second level of maturity saw the bottom-up discovery of services, the third level introduces the top-down method of service identification within and across the application portfolio and partner space. Business process modeling tools, choreography of services and the adoption of a standards-based business process execution language is introduced at this level. Service discovery through repositories and reuse engineering are also used. Some other characteristics of this maturity level include:

 

  • Ease of modification of existing services,
  • Service availability measured and delivered to a specified level,
  • Business process rules externalized from code into commercial grade engines,
  • Event-driven processes adopted,
  • Composite applications created through the choreography of existing services,
  • Cross-enterprise security established and
  • Cross-enterprise protocols translated.

Level 4: Measured Business Services (Transforming)

 

The fourth level of SOA maturity is where composite business services are measured and fine-tuned for better performance, agility and cross-enterprise reuse. Applications - in addition to services – are now able to achieve the desired service level agreement using infrastructure based on operational performance metrics. Key operational performance metrics are collected at the business process level and reports and dashboards are created. Some of the key activities that take place at level four are:

 

  • Business service monitoring,
  • Event-driven dashboards and alerts,
  • Performance of complex (e.g., embedded and recursive) events processing,
  • Defined business process measures and
  • Visibility of business processes to management and partners.

Level 5: Optimized Business Services (Optimization)

 

At the fifth and final level of SOA maturity, the company’s services are dynamically reconfigurable in order to deliver real-time optimal business performance. Quality of service characteristics such as scalability, availability and performance are incorporated. At this level, SOA becomes fully optimized and aligned with business goals and objectives.

 

SOA is not only about the generation and choreography of services, but also is a critical means through which application and business interoperability can be improved. Awareness and education around SOA is an ongoing process, but armed with the right tools and by taking the time to do the right preparation work, achieving organization-wide adoption of SOA is not an insurmountable feat.

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