Collaboration Under SOA: The Human Aspects

This book chapter from Executing SOA: A Practical Guide for the Service-Oriented Architect shows how Web 2.0 business concepts apply to businesses, especially those enterprises that adhere to the philosophy of SOA.

In the previous chapters, we concentrated on technical and organizational aspects of SOA in the enterprise. We provided practical hints and experiences for setting up the IT development. But, SOA is like other innovations, not just another technology the IT shop incorporates. Each time a new technology is introduced or innovative technologies are applied in the enterprise, humans are involved: Employees, managers, business partners, and the customers decide whether a change is successful.

Excerpt from Executing SOA: A Practical Guide for the Service-Oriented Architect

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This chapter discusses the development of working in a service-oriented enterprise and how the SOA-based infrastructure enables people to collaborate more effectively and receive benefits of the enterprise. An important part in this is the human interface, the way the IT systems are presented to the user. Especially in this context, we highlight the impact of new technologies that arrived with Web 2.0 in the company and the organizational changes that benefit from them.

8.1 What Does SOA Mean to People?

Before discussing the technical solutions and tools, it is important to look at the impact of an SOA-based infrastructure on an organization and its people. As stated in Chapter 2 of Service-Oriented Architecture Compass (Bieberstein et al. 2006), business agility is a major goal of SOA-based infrastructure. This cannot be achieved with just new IT infrastructure; it also requires organizational changes. Those changes involve different ways to build IT solutions, to utilize the reuse of enterprise assets at large as we discussed earlier, and to care for appropriate governance in the enterprise.

Any change to the system results in an impact on the people working in the enterprise. In SOA for Profit (van den Berg et al. 2007), the authors describe the change in enterprise operation, a business transformation that is most important for getting the desired results from becoming an SOA-based company.

On one hand, the changes involve new or changed roles that reflect cooperation under the service-oriented paradigm; on the other hand, the changes involve employee and management behavioral changes. Naturally, as with any change or new idea, you will encounter resistance and overly enthusiastic acceptance. It is the task of the leadership teams, the company management, to moderate the emotions and to manage the change process.

8.1.1 The Service-Oriented-People in the Enterprise

In Chapter 3, "SOA Governance," we outlined the SOA governance structure and organization of authorities for a service-oriented operation in the company. Now, we summarize the key ideas that are important or indispensable for the service-oriented people in the enterprise—let's call them the SO-managers and SO-employees.

SO-Managers

  • Primarily act as observers instead of directors (who issue top-down orders).

  • Monitor the business (adequate tools and systems support this).

  • Define rules and processes, such as building a constitution that includes the fundamental laws for the company (golden rule or constitution).

  • Recognize talents and temperaments as well as know the skills of the employees to staff roles/pools (act as mentors for personal development—especially matching talents and temperaments, not just acquired skills and experiences, to the tasks).

  • Allow satisfying freedom to the employees under the set rules (equivalent to the loosely coupling of services in an SOA).

  • Motivate employees by addressing the individual talents and preferred tasks. (This applies especially to people managers who are responsible for dedicated teams, versus business generals who are in charge of the overall corporate directions and are not dealing with daily execution at the bottom.)

SO-Employees

  • Get information and take initiatives (solving tasks autonomously by acting and cooperating with best matching peers).

  • Execute the tasks that are necessary to satisfy customer demands. (Employees should be empowered to perform the company rules and processes and not have to be entitled to single actions by their managers.)

  • Build ad hoc teams and organize their work within the legal framework. (Incentives and punishments can be used to enforce this.)

  • Know their strengths and publish them (populating the employee repository accordingly) to become engaged (the individual employee advertises one's capabilities, preferences, and strengths to the company to get the work to the person who can do it best).

  • Offer services and act (publishing experience records and service offerings within the enterprise repository).

  • Maintain motivation by working on what they do best and being directly recognized for achievements. (Peer reviews, awards, and suitable incentives support this.)

Most of the items in the previous lists can be reached in a company when both sides, managers and employees, get together to define business transformation goals and a path to reach them. Certainly, education is required to gain support and understanding for why the transformation goals will help the enterprise and, even more important, who the individuals involved will be. With an SOA-based organization and a motivated team, the enterprise can become as agile as expected.

In a way, we see the roles and responsibilities of managers and employees, executives, and professionals changing toward a more service-oriented behavior, which requires the listed personal qualities. Summarizing, we can state that a manager in a service-oriented enterprise becomes more the role of a thoughtful leader, one who thinks out the services framework their company can offer under the corporate strategy as set by the business generals. More details about how to govern the enterprise in a loosely coupled manner are given in the IBM Systems Journal article by Bieberstein et al. (SJ44-4 of 2005).

In turn, the individual employees are getting more active to perform within the given framework. To achieve agility, each individual will advertise one's services in an enterprise repository, specifically skills, expertise, talents, and other reasonable data. In the case of a project requested by a customer, project managers or other people in charge will look in the repository to find the most suitable professionals.

8.1.2 Research on the Impact of SOA in the Enterprise

During the business transformation toward a service-oriented enterprise, there are not just technical issues to consider, but also the impact it has on a company's operation and all involved people, as well as the way the enterprise operates on the global market and deals with their customers. The observations made are being published in scientific journals (for example, see the papers in the section "Business Aspects of Service-Oriented Thinking" in the IBM Systems Journal issue 44-4, http://www.research.ibm.com/journal/sj44-4.html). Furthermore, there are researchers working on related issues, finding new ways to govern "loosely coupled" enterprises and defining guides to smoothly and surely reach the set goals. In this context, we like to refer to Peter Weill and his team at Sloan School of Management at MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and other researchers who recently published books and articles on this issue (see the reference list).

The academic disciplines involved do not limit themselves to a computer sciences or business focus, but extend to psychology, political sciences, and sociology, as these get fueled by ideas through the evolving Internet and its influence on nearly every society around the globe. The scientific results from studying groups of co-workers, individual behaviors within teams, and individual temperaments support the idea that a service-oriented organization is ideal.

There are several publications based on long-term observations that can be applied to how people cooperate within a service-oriented enterprise so that the goals of agility are reached. We also found several research results that can be best applied at a company based on SOA principles, as we have described in this book.

There is Meredith Belbin's research published in Management Teams. Belbin's work shows that teams perform best when there is a certain mixture of dedicated team roles. In numerous experiments, he proved that so-called A-teams won't deliver the best results, because in a team made up by alpha personalities (those who always score the highest as individuals and get the A marks in school), too much time and effort is lost to ranking fights rather than concentrating on the subject. In his books and publications, Belbin shows what constellation of team player types leads to the best results. In a service-oriented enterprise, the knowledge of those types can be stored as attributes in the enterprise repository. This lets a project manager staff the team not just with people who are educated in the requested areas and bring appropriate experiences with certain situations, but also helps to get the right combination of team players for a winning team.

Belbin offers a test for the team role types on his website.

In this context, it is worth mentioning the studies executed by Gallup over many decades. They are published in the book by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton, Now, Discover Your Strengths. Based on millions of individual data and supported by real-life results from applying the knowledge about one's individual strengths to the personal records, the authors show that many people hide their talents instead of letting their strengths play for the team's and the company's benefit. Publishing these could also help staff teams to deliver services because each individual can get insight and knowledge about strengths and how one can best contribute to the team's success.

Personality traits are an important aspect for successful business operation as the results from research in psychology show. Philosophers, HR professionals, and especially psychologists around the globe have been interested in human stereotypes, in classifying people based on their temperaments to better understand individual drivers (what motivates you?) and reactions (why did you get so angry?). Some of the ideas are dated. In the 1980s, the psychologists David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates developed their temperament sorter and published it (1986) under the title Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types. Based on the temperament types, several tests, guidelines, and advice have been developed, all with the intention to clarify the individual personality. Better understanding other peoples' behaviors, feelings, and thinking processes can avoid friction among team members. Enlightenment can be an advantage for anybody working on teams. The knowledge about the individual temperaments is another key in staffing winning teams.

8.1.3 The Role of a Service-Oriented Architect

Team building in a service-oriented enterprise can happen in various ways. For SO-managers and SO-employees, empowered individuals ideally seek each other rather than have to be told to fill an explicit position in an organization chart. However, there are people in roles who are better at knowing the people and more capable than others at building a successful team. Those are addressed as people managers in the earlier section of this chapter.

Certainly, professional project managers, who are not just administrators, are predestined for staffing a project team. However, there is a need for translation between IT and the company business languages, a strong request for a role that spans wider than just solving IT issues for the enterprise. A person in this role has to know and cooperate with and within the executive management teams to develop the most suitable solutions.

This role takes on a certain mediator function, which we like to call the service-oriented architect, or a classical enterprise architect within a service-oriented enterprise. Best suited are persons who have been educated in IT and business administration, and probably equally important, who have the diplomatic talents to act as a mediator between both sides. This role becomes then the guarantor for the business transformation en route to the SOA-based company. It is a team play that involves change activists from almost every business unit to become successful.

This change does not end at the company gates. It goes far beyond, as individuals work from home, no longer penned up in corporate office buildings, or participate in business via the Internet from almost any place on Earth. In other words, this all is an all-embracing transition; a revolutionary movement that touches everything in everybody's daily lives, at work and certainly at leisure time, too.

8.2 Web 2.0 and SOA

In the context of the changes we expect and see ongoing to make an enterprise SOA based, it is necessary to look at what Web 2.0 brings to the table. Sandy Carter (2007), in her book The New Language of Business, describes how the meeting of SOA and the new Internet facilities changes the way companies do their business today. She describes it as an irrevocable and impelled movement that determines a company's survival.

8.2.1 Definition of Web 2.0

When searching the Internet for "Web 2.0," you easily get many millions of hits. This indicates certain hype attached to it. Let's summarize the idea behind the term.

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