Among the ways to keep a service-oriented architecture (SOA) initiative on track, forming a center of excellence (COE) is a frequently named \n\noption. Indeed, a recent Forrester survey shows that having an SOA COE correlates with higher satisfaction with SOA. It is more interesting, \n\nhowever, to note that the most-valuable functions that SOA COEs perform, as judged by Forrester survey respondents, have to do with \n\nleadership and governance for SOA, not training on detailed technology skills. As architects plan for SOA and guide their organization in its \n\nadoption, they should think of the SOA COE first as a governance body and only second as a training body.SOA Definition and SolutionsForrester asked survey respondents to rank order the most valuable functions of their SOA COE. Our analysis of the responses identifies five \n\nSOA COE functions as the most valuable:\n\n1.\tCreating and maintaining SOA vision and plans. \n2.\tActing in an approval role as part of the SOA governance program. \n3.\tManaging patterns for SOA implementations. \n4.\tManaging the portfolio\/library of SOA-based services. \n5.\tPlanning the future of the SOA technology base. \n\nSOA and Web services are not the same thing: SOA is the design concepts; Web services are one (very important) technology stack for \n\nimplementing those concepts. While SOA COEs do provide training on SOA and Web services standards and products, this top five list shows \n\nthat guiding SOA design is a more-valuable goal for SOA COEs to pursue. The top five SOA COE practices are what they are because: \u2022 SOA vision provides the broad context for good design. If the organization doesn't know why it's doing SOA, it will have \n\ndifficulty getting momentum. Without clear leadership and vision, many will find reason to resist, and even those who get on board with SOA will \n\npull the initiative in different directions. With a strategic SOA vision focused around business design concepts, your people become focused on the \n\nright level of design for your most-important SOA-based services: business services. This also gives them a perspective for understanding how \n\napplication services and infrastructure services are also important, but add value inside of IT, as opposed to the business value focus of business \n\nservices.\u2022 Approval provides the best mentoring. As opposed to providing only guidelines, training, or mentoring, active participation in \n\nSOA governance by approving SOA deliverables gives an SOA COE a strong position for leadership and for keeping SOA on track. When your \n\nSOA COE is involved in actually approving SOA deliverables, mentoring has real teeth. But even more, the two-way give and take between COE \n\nand project team members ensures that the design guidance the COE provides actually works in the real world.\u2022 Patterns provide concrete design guidance. Patterns may be developed as guidance for implementing individual services or as \n\nreference architectures to guide the design of an entire SOA-based solution. Training and mentoring are good, but the more that expertise is \n\nencoded into patterns and sample deliverables, the easier to learn and follow it becomes. Patterns provide stronger guidance than design principles \n\nbecause they put the principles into practice in different contexts, showing more fully how they are to be applied and allowing many design \n\ndecisions to be premade. \u2022 Available services must be organized to facilitate their use. Whether via a spreadsheet, a Web page, or a formal SOA \n\nregistry-repository, services need some type of organization and cataloging that enables team members to use services when and where they \n\nshould. In Forrester's conversations with clients, we find that firms' approaches are divided: Some take a library view of SOA services (a loosely \n\norganization collection of what projects have produced), while others take a portfolio view of SOA services (a planned, evolving, and coherent set \n\nof coordinated services). A library view is a starting point that ensures the availability of broad knowledge of what is available, but it doesn't \n\nprovide the process or organizational discipline to actually use the service library. A more strategic portfolio view provides a much stronger basis \n\nfor designing services into projects, even before the project budget is set.\u2022 Getting the technology base ready provides the base for service design. When your organization buys a new piece of \n\ntechnology infrastructure, it tends to stay around a long time. Because the technology becomes embedded in your applications, it will be hard to get \n\nrid of. If each team is making its own decisions for SOA technology, the resulting diversity will greatly increase the difficulty of taking an enterprise \n\napproach to SOA. When your COE has an advance plan for the evolution of your SOA technology base \u2014 including how your existing \n\ntechnologies fit into your SOA platform \u2014 it provides a solid base for the specification of patterns and the design of your services. By addressing the more-important concerns of getting the design of your services right, these top five practices form a stronger foundation for \n\nthe value of your SOA COE compared with simple training on SOA technology and standards. As your COE pursues these functions, it will by \n\ndefault build into these functions much of the necessary training on standards and products.Randy Heffner is a Vice President at Forrester Research, serving Enterprise Architecture professionals. He is a leading expert on \n\narchitectures and design approaches for building enterprise applications that are secure and resilient in the face of continuous business and \n\ntechnology change.