Making SOA Sustainable

It is difficult to keep up with the rapid changes in technology. The rampant use of Web services and the consequent adoption of service-oriented architectures (SOA) makes “keeping up” all the more critical, because these technologies are fundamental to the success of a business.

SOA’s appeal isn’t difficult to understand. While there is no widely agreed upon definition other than its literal translation, SOA is an architecture that relies on service-orientation as its fundamental design principle. In an SOA environment independent services can be accessed without knowledge of their underlying platform implementation.

Adopting SOA is becoming essential to delivering the business agility and IT flexibility required by today’s enterprises. SOA delivers a major competitive advantage by increasing organizational agility, allowing companies to easily assemble and modify business processes in response to market requirements. It also offers greater flexibility in the way computer systems can be used to support the business while lowering implementation costs by increasing reusability.

With SOA, IT assets are aligned to business services in a standard, open, and flexible architected fashion. The promise and goal of SOA is that it can transform the IT assets of a business, making it possible to do more with less, and faster while keeping pace with technology changes.

Little wonder SOA is the darling of the industry. According to a March 2007 report from Forrester Research, 75% of Global 2000 firms in North America and Europe say they will have adopted SOA by the end of 2007.

Sustainable SOA

The idea of sustainability isn’t really a new concept but it’s vital in the process of strategic IT thinking. What it means is that it’s not enough to think about technology in the context of solving a problem or addressing a need that you have today. To deliver sustainable value from IT you have to think about how technology will continue to address your needs going forward.

Understood this way, SOA is only viable in the long term when you consider the whole lifecycle of services over time as they are created, changed and even retired. And that’s where sustainability comes in. If you’re not thinking ahead to how you will deliver that consistent experience you’re not thinking in a sustainable way. But the question of sustainable SOA is moot without proper governance.

SOA Governance

Companies embarking on the path to SOA start with a framework to guide them through decision-making, accurate tracking, improved serviceability and better communication. This path is called SOA governance.

Essentially, SOA governance is the mechanism to ensure that the decision making structure is solid, evolution of business process and technology is encompassed, relationships between services and parties are managed and that there is compliance with the laws, policies, standards and procedures under which an organization operates.

SOA governance is an extension of IT governance that focuses on the lifecycle of services and composite applications in an organization’s service-oriented architecture. Because SOA applications are intrinsically fragmented, they introduce new governance challenges. But with the proper business semantics, policies, principles, standards, procedures and processes in place, businesses can realize the full benefit of service orientation.

An effective SOA governance platform not only helps business and IT teams better identify which projects contribute most to business goals, but it also empowers employees to work and collaborate more efficiently by clearly defining their roles and responsibilities.

Without SOA governance, SOA has little chance of becoming sustainable. In a recent study on SOA and governance, industry analyst firm Gartner concluded that the most common reason for failure in SOA projects encompassing 50 services or more was a lack of working governance mechanisms.

The bottom line is that any enterprise that fails to realize the importance of an effective governance and sustainable structure may not stand to benefit much from a SOA transition.

Sustainable Strategies

Your SOA approach should align processes governance and information technology with business objectives. You should view your organization as a system, and see its technology, information and processes as components of an overall structure. You should consider that only the proper articulation and alignment of processes and business objectives will make an SOA implementation sustainable, manageable and profitable.

The key to success in implementing a sustainable and functional SOA takes into account four main components:

  • Design a framework that integrates throughout the lifecycle of SOA. This includes people, processes and technology domains, all around the goals of supporting business processes.

  • Assess the IT maturity stage, business goals and technical context constraints of the enterprise.

  • Create a plan that covers the design, construction, deployment and operation of artifacts, principles, policies, etc. to help IT adopt and evolve an SOA.

  • Produce a sound adoption roadmap encompassing the “Today” and the “To Be” scenarios.

    By using a systemic approach you get a clear advantage to working independently of the different legacy software systems you might have, as well as optimize the solution and ensure sustainable profitability. The result will be sustainable SOA.

    Lionel Carrasco is CTO of Neoris, a global business and IT consultancy, specializing in nearshore outsourcing, value-added consulting, and emerging technologies.