European SOA Adoption Mirrors U.S.

SOA adoption in Western Europe is moving along at brisk pace but, like the U.S., companies are only now moving small, pilot projects to the next level—like exposing legacy systems via Web services.

To find out more, Rob Hailstone, IDC’s European research director for software infrastructure and SOA, surveyed 200 participants of SOA conferences in London and Amsterdam. What he discovered is not particularly surprising to those in-the-know, which is SOA is top of mind of many IT professional these days.

“[T]he overall impression is the interest is giving way to pilot projects and pilot projects are giving way to limited production,” said Hailstone, “but there’s only a relatively small number of organizations that have got a significant or substantial service in production.”

Current Status of SOA

Conference attendees were asked, “What is the current status of SOA in your organization?” The most important trend is about half of those who were investigating SOA in 2005 have now moved on to the pilot project phase, representing 44% of total responses.

Equally important, an element of those who were making some live use of SOA in 2005 have now moved to more substantial use in 2006, but this is only three percent of the total.

The responses to the question, “How does SOA fit into the IT strategy of your organization?”, are particularly encouraging, said Hailstone. The number of organizations in which SOA has no formal place in the IT strategy has more than halved from 28% in 2005 to 12% in 2006.

A purely tactical approach to SOA has also seen a slight decline from 35% to 28%. Instead, the number of organizations where SOA is the preferred approach for new projects has grown from 37% to 53% and, in 2006, eight percent of responses said SOA was mandated for all new projects.

These results are surprisingly optimistic considering that only 18% of responses indicated any form of live use of SOA, but this situation does indicate that the pilot projects underway are being viewed as successful.

Reasons for Delaying Adoption

To identify the reasons for delaying implementation of SOA, respondents were asked, “If your organization has no plans to implement SOA, how important are the following reasons for not implementing?”

It is extremely disappointing to note that lack of awareness or knowledge remains the dominant reason that organizations are being slow in adopting SOA. This was highlighted as a problem in 2005, but appears to have increased in severity in 2006. This issue is explored further in a later question.

Doubts around the maturity of SOA technologies and experience within the industry of implementing SOA solutions have shown a welcome reduction, although this should still be recognized as a significant perception issue that needs to be addressed.

The Education Challenge

Because the level of understanding of SOA is such a critical issue in its adoption, a question was targeted specifically at this issue. Respondents were asked, “How well do you feel the concepts and potential benefits of SOA are understood within your organization?” but asked to rate this for different types of role within their organization.

In 2005, awareness of the potential of SOA was poor across all IT and business roles, with only those responsible for IT strategy showing a reasonable degree of confidence in the topic.

By 2006 there had been a noticeable improvement in the level of knowledge of IT strategists and IT technical staff. Even so, 55% rated the organization’s IT technical staff as having only partial or no knowledge with respect to SOA.

However, there was no measurable improvement shown in the awareness of business staff, whether line-of-business or strategically focused. This is bound to be a cause of delays in investment in SOA, since the majority of projects will need to have business sponsorship rather than being infrastructure projects with no visibility outside of the IT world.

Raising the general level of SOA awareness in business managers is probably the greatest challenge facing vendors’ marketing staff in the immediate future.

“The conclusion I draw is, first of all, there is still a big issue with lack of understanding particularly at the business management level, said Hailstone.

“The messaging is pretty well understood at the technical level, but translating that into business benefit—that message has not gone through to business managers … It’s a little disappointing. You’d have thought that message would have worked it’s way through the system by now.”