Stop selling SOA

My feeds from the blogosphere are bringing a sense of the rise (again) of chatter around SOA and how to sell it to the business – oh dear, here we go again.

Various thoughts on this are neatly covered by Lorraine Lawson at ITBusinessEdge.  Various metaphors are being suggested for SOA including the Lego one (but Lego bricks can only be used once!), the fast food metaphor (puh-lease!), the service contract model espoused by David Sprott.  Actually this last attempt is one of the better ones, but David still dives off into a dry cleaning analogy at one point, and talks in very technical non-business-friendly language.

I still maintain, however, that all these metaphors miss the point.  What business people are interested in is what SOA can do, not what it is.  So as a business head, I might have a desperate need for agility, the ability to react to external events, to capitalise on short term market opportunities.  I realise that my existing IT infrastructure constrains me.  If I ask my IT dept how I can be more agile, then SOA may be a solution, but to be frank, I am not that interested.  I am interested in the cost of course, and how long it takes to deliver.  I am interested in understanding the solution and how it will enable (or constrain) my business processes, but I am not interested in the technology or the architecture behind it.

I know IT people are not going to like my views here – but SOA is just a means of delivering what the business needs.  It is not the only means either.  It depends on what the business needs are.  By “selling” SOA, IT folk are being very presumptive about what the business needs.

I think that there are more similarities between IT and building architecture than most IT people are prepared to admit.  If I commission an architect to build me a house, I am interested in the shape, size, finishes – what the building does for me.  I am not interested in the whether the structure is steel or wood, I am interested in whether the house is still standing after a storm.  I am not interested in whether the foundations are dug with a spade or a mechanical digger.  I am interested in how long it takes and how much it costs.  So if I ask an IT architect to design me a solution, I am not interested in whether they use SOA or P2P architecture, I am interested in whether I get the flexibility I need from the solution.

It makes my blood boil when IT depts and vendors sell technology.  Some even suggest that ROI is not the point of SOA.  Any business investment has to stand up to the scrutiny of return on investment.  I feel really stupid even saying this but if SOA (or rather the business solution delivered using SOA) does not deliver return on investment then don’t do it – simple huh?

As a vendor, I know we are all guilty at times, but we really ought to focus more on business need and deliver against that.

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