How to Use a Business-Focused Approach in SOA Design and Governance

If you listen to industry discussion of service-oriented architecture (SOA), you are likely to get the impression that SOA is best thought of as a technical approach for application integration. The reality is that SOA is much more.

By Randy Heffner
Wed, August 03, 2011

CIO

If you listen to industry discussion of service-oriented architecture (SOA), you are likely to get the impression that SOA is best thought of as a technical approach for application integration. The reality is that SOA is much more. According to Forrester's Q1 2011 Global Application Architecture, Design, And Portfolios - SOA And Beyond Online Survey, organizations that use SOA for strategic business transformation must be on to something because they are much more satisfied with SOA than those that do not use SOA for strategic business transformation. According to the survey, all 16 respondents who reported strategic business use of SOA are satisfied enough to expand their use of SOA. By contrast, 7 of 27 respondents without a strategic business focus with SOA are struggling or cutting back on SOA.

A business-focused approach begins with SOA business services, which embody major business units of work - transactions and queries such as submit order, retrieve customer lifetime value, or schedule production run - inside clearly-defined software interfaces that are accessible when and where needed by any employee, process, customer, or business partner.

Why is this important? Because when it's time to do business through a mobile channel; when it's time to directly connect your processes with your customers' processes; when you need business transaction insight; or with any number of other business changes, your SOA business services provide business building blocks for changing your business. By contrast, an integration-focused approach to SOA, while useful and good, provides only technical building blocks. Technical building blocks are good, but they only indirectly provide agility for ongoing business optimization and transformation.

Survey results also reveal that SOA governance, combined with a business-focused approach to SOA, provides a solid foundation for SOA success and satisfaction. Your SOA governance initiative may start with general practices, such as architectural reviews or an SOA steering committee, and then mature to include specific governance practices and mechanisms such as the following (presented in order of Forrester - general guidance for a prioritized sequence of specific SOA design and governance mechanisms):

1. Service interface design review and approval

Forrester prioritizes this first because it builds a foundation for other SOA governance practices. As the fulcrum of SOA, well-designed business service interfaces establish a strong foundation for business success with SOA. Poorly designed interfaces set you up for many challenges. Build service interface reviews into project plans whenever services are created (or updated). At review meetings, include staff members who can ensure that each SOA business service makes sense as a complete business unit of work (or technical unit of work, for SOA application services and SOA infrastructure services).

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