SOA Help Wanted: Balancing Outsourcing, Insourcing and Re-Skilling

What's the best strategy for staffing enterprise service-oriented architecture initiatives? You might be surprised.

Building on their early successes with pilot projects, many companies are pursuing enterprisewide service-oriented architecture (SOA) initiatives. These longer-term, expansive projects demand personnel with proven SOA skills. Yet the challenge of acquiring SOA skills is more than just another skirmish in the larger war for IT talent.

Obtaining the best SOA skills requires a new approach. Companies must create a global development team, balancing geographically dispersed employees, outsourced personnel and expert consultants for hire.

Do not assume, however, that the old tactics of rote outsourcing, hiring consultants and re-hiring for new skills will work here. The rules have changed. Outsourcing the responsibility for IT architecture is not a sound approach. Hiring an army of external consultants is too costly. Firing and replacing the entire staff is impractical.

What is the alternative? IT organizations are choosing to "re-skill" or retrain their existing resources. By investing in skills development, CIOs ensure that information workers receive the new training and education they need to support the companyr&squo;s transformation to a service-based infrastructure.

The Will to Re-Skill

Evolving to new SOA skills is a long-term strategic investment, but one that is worthwhile—after all, it can create the right DNA for a corporate IT team. Unlike many outsourced technical initiatives (such as system migration or application maintenance), where the process is secondary to the end result, SOA requires laser-like focus on the methods and practices of creating and supporting service-based IT.

Recognizing this reality, leading companies are beginning to recognize the value of retraining for enterprise SOA. A recent survey of more than 150 business and IT executives by GCR Custom Research LLC reveals that more than 31 percent of all SOA budget funds are spent on re-skilling existing staff resources. That same survey found that nearly half of all companies are spending more than $1 million on their SOA initiatives. At that rate, companies are spending an average $310,000 on SOA skills development and training.

The focus on educational development grows as corporations extend their SOA initiatives. According to the data, 26 percent of companies invested in training for SOA pilot projects. As the initiatives grew to become cross-enterprise, 36 percent of those surveyed dedicated funds to re-skilling.

Yet most companies do not postpone training efforts until they expand their SOA initiatives. In the GCR research, re-skilling accounted for 27 percent of the budget for SOA projects costing less than $500,000. Once SOA spending reached more than $1 million, the percentage dedicated to training fell to only 19 percent. As SOA maturity grows, the cost of education falls.

Cultivating SOA Skills

Developing skills for SOA is not strictly a linear process, like retraining a COBOL programmer to use Java. New technical skills must be learned, but IT professionals also must develop business acumen that will help them serve their users. Successful re-skilling shifts the view of technical personnel from strictly functional considerations to cross-enterprise concerns. For example, an enterprise architect who originally might have focused on infrastructure details may now need to help business users understand how and why using IT services can benefit the organization.

How can CIOs improve their odds of success in retraining the workforce? Consider adopting the following best practices:

Deploy five new or redefined roles. Re-skilling for enterprise SOA requires organizations to deploy new roles and redefine existing roles within the IT organization. However, this change must be executed incrementally, minimizing disruption and resistance.

New roles include an IT executive, who acts as the "mayor" and leads the SOA charge; the enterprise architect, a "city planner" who drives the technical and design requirements; a service architect, the "building code engineer" who champions architectural consistency throughout service design; service engineers, the "building contractors" who oversee the creation and assembly of services; and the developers and administrators, the "builders" who develop and maintain service-based applications.

Redefined roles are required when functions change in scope and responsibility to meet new business requirements. For example, documentation and quality assurance groups may need to take on new responsibilities while retaining their original titles.

Establish core standards. How CIOs deploy personnel resources depends on the organization's global sourcing strategy. Yet successful deployment can be assured only when core standards and governance are in place. These standards must include defined job skills requirements that are incorporated into company job descriptions and incentive structures.

With these standards in place, CIOs are prepared to make specific global sourcing decisions. Insourcing such elements as SOA architecture and governance services are best practices that help SOA run smoothly. In addition, certain design services and critical services builds are most effective when done in-house.

Accelerate re-skilling with a plan. Efficiently re-skilling personnel requires the execution of three steps. First, define the organizational model you want to achieve over time. Which skill sets are necessary to the company? Then, define today's baseline: which skills are currently available, and which are lacking? Finally, create a plan for changing the total skill set over time.

Once training needs are understood, companies can pursue an SOA curriculum by role—ranging from technology-agnostic topics from SOA and architectural concepts to governance, followed with specialized training on specific products and techniques. Depending on the learner's needs and availability, this education can be delivered in hours to weeks by teachers in a classroom setting or using computer-based, self-paced training.

Use external help judiciously. Completing all retraining efforts before beginning enterprise SOA deployments is not necessary. In fact, hiring professional service consultants, process experts or outsourcing the entire development center can, in the right circumstances, effectively help a company get immediate skill set help and drive necessary change, while minimizing disruption.

It is critical, however, to ensure that this external knowledge is transferred to internal staff. Properly planned and used, external expertise can serve as an excellent source for on-the-job training, mentoring, and skills transfer.

Measure progress against the skills change plan. Re-skilling cannot be completed overnight, but the change should be quantifiable. Whether the organization uses certification levels, testing or compliance to standards as a yardstick, progression on the skills change plan must be transparent and must move steadily toward the final goal.

New Roles and Skills Needed to Support Enterprise SOA

Title Role Skills
IT Executive mayor,chief cheerleader
  • Justifies the business case for SOA.
  • Conveys business benefits to stakeholders.
  • Leads cultural change within an organization.
  • Understands the basic principles and concepts of SOA.
Enterprise Architect city planner (this position can be external)
  • Justifies the business case for SOA.
  • Fits new technologies under SOA infrastructure.
  • Understands the design principles of SOA.
  • Identifies how SOA impacts organization within six critical domains.
Service Architect building code engineer
  • Understands the architectural principles of service design within the context of SOA.
  • Maintains architectural consistency in services.
  • Understands service lifecycle, service design and implementation standards, service granularity guidelines and service security strategy.
Service Engineer building contractor
  • Reassembles services to meet business requirements.
  • Uses new and existing technologies to design service interface and implementation.
Developer and Administrator builders
  • Develops and maintains applications in a service-oriented IT environment.
  • Provides technical know-how on products.

Mix Carefully for Best Results

An effective retraining plan is an investment in IT's present and future ability to serve the business. Yes, the effort has costs, but the alternative is untenable. Consider the case of one major city that outsourced its entire SOA strategy and project development to a third-party. The project got off to a quick start, then languished. Why? Without any skills transfer and retraining of its technical staff, the city had inadvertently relinquished ownership of the initiative. The ROI suffered accordingly.

Only when companies take ownership of their SOA deployments can service-based initiatives flourish. By blending employee re-training with appropriate outsourcing and hiring of external consultants and structured knowledge transfer, companies can support the transformation to a service-based infrastructure with minimum cost and maximum efficiency. Retraining the workforce is an investment. The final analysis, however, poses only one question: can you afford not to re-skill?

Sara Hepner is the vice president for worldwide education at BEA Systems. Malhar Kamdar is vice president, EMEA Consulting, and global SOA practice lead, BEA Systems. You can download GCR Research SOA Financial Justification, sponsored by BEA Systems, at


Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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