Top 5 Benefits of Forming an SOA Center of Excellence

How do you keep your SOA project on track? Forrester's Randy Heffner explains the advantages of forming a center of excellence around SOA - and why you should think of it as a governance body, not a training group.

Among the ways to keep a service-oriented architecture (SOA) initiative on track, forming a center of excellence (COE) is a frequently named option. Indeed, a recent Forrester survey shows that having an SOA COE correlates with higher satisfaction with SOA. It is more interesting, however, to note that the most-valuable functions that SOA COEs perform, as judged by Forrester survey respondents, have to do with leadership and governance for SOA, not training on detailed technology skills. As architects plan for SOA and guide their organization in its adoption, they should think of the SOA COE first as a governance body and only second as a training body.

SOA Definition and Solutions

Forrester asked survey respondents to rank order the most valuable functions of their SOA COE. Our analysis of the responses identifies five SOA COE functions as the most valuable:

1. Creating and maintaining SOA vision and plans.

2. Acting in an approval role as part of the SOA governance program.

3. Managing patterns for SOA implementations.

4. Managing the portfolio/library of SOA-based services.

5. Planning the future of the SOA technology base.

SOA and Web services are not the same thing: SOA is the design concepts; Web services are one (very important) technology stack for implementing those concepts. While SOA COEs do provide training on SOA and Web services standards and products, this top five list shows that guiding SOA design is a more-valuable goal for SOA COEs to pursue. The top five SOA COE practices are what they are because:

SOA vision provides the broad context for good design. If the organization doesn't know why it's doing SOA, it will have difficulty getting momentum. Without clear leadership and vision, many will find reason to resist, and even those who get on board with SOA will pull the initiative in different directions. With a strategic SOA vision focused around business design concepts, your people become focused on the right level of design for your most-important SOA-based services: business services. This also gives them a perspective for understanding how application services and infrastructure services are also important, but add value inside of IT, as opposed to the business value focus of business services.

Approval provides the best mentoring. As opposed to providing only guidelines, training, or mentoring, active participation in SOA governance by approving SOA deliverables gives an SOA COE a strong position for leadership and for keeping SOA on track. When your SOA COE is involved in actually approving SOA deliverables, mentoring has real teeth. But even more, the two-way give and take between COE and project team members ensures that the design guidance the COE provides actually works in the real world.

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