This month's column is contributed by Steve Craggs, European chairman of the Integration Consortium.

Service-oriented architecture (SOA) is a subject occupying the minds of many companies across the world. Businesses are desperate to achieve the many benefits promised by this model for IT resource architecture and interaction, such as improved responsiveness to business requirements, reduced costs and lower risk. Sadly, although the basic concepts of SOA are relatively easy to grasp, achieving SOA success is something that some companies are finding to be elusive. It is as if the SOA promised land, where IT components are turned into building blocks of business functionality that can be assembled and reassembled quickly and easily to meet changing business needs, is tantalisingly visible but always in the distance. Companies are faced with the same challenge as John Bunyan's allegorical hero as he tried to reach the Celestial City, having to choose between the seemingly easy road and the harder, narrow path. Unfortunately, as in the story, the easy way is often the wrong choice.

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