Is Enterprise Wide SOA Just Too Challenging?

The hype amongst suppliers with a vested interest in Service Oriented Architecture grows daily.

Intuitively its a great idea.  Turn your organisation into a set of services that can be used and stitched together to form business processes which in turn are exposed to front and back office staff, business partners, agents, customers via direct channels etc etc.  These services are loosely coupled to the existing IT applications so can be maintained independently.  Users only effectively see one simple system.  Brilliant!

But is it actually possible to achieve this utopia?  In a complex enterprise, I believe it may be just too challenging and therefore not cost effective to pursue.

Yet by not pursuing this attractive end game, we are missing an opportunity.  Enterprises suffer from a multi-system, multi process environments and this complicates any top down approach to solving the customer service/efficiency challenge.

I would argue that taking a local, in effect bottom up approach is a better option.  Consider one local process that has been fragmented by the use of multiple systems – for example updating customer fixed detail in several systems.  It is possible using web services (or indeed other integration/interfacing technologies) to automate this otherwise manual process at a local level.  The benefits of doing it this way is that there is an immediate business benefit.  The user community are not left waiting 2 years for the “big bang” solution that may not do exactly what they want, or even be descoped before they see it.

This is not necessarily inconsistent, however, with aiming for the longer term SOA advantages.  It just means creating the building blocks in small local quantities that really work and deliver real business gains cost effectively.

Some will argue that there is a risk of compounding the fragmented system problem by addressing each problem locally resulting in every local office having its own flavour of solution.  I agree.  It is essential to maintain central control and ensure that each building block is built only once!  This is the key to re-use, one of the key advantages of SOA.

Other advantages of this approach are that projects can become at least partially self funding by delivering business benefits incrementally that fund the next stage.

In the IT world we are often accused by the business community of not listening and not providing real benefits to the organisation.  Is this a way of enhancing our reputations a little?

Deliver customer service/efficiency improvements (SOA or otherwise) in bite sized and manageable chunks, but with central control.  You may be surprised how quickly the total business benefits accrue!

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