by Kathleen Lau

Leadership is SOA Rocket Fuel

Feb 03, 20094 mins
Enterprise ArchitectureIT LeadershipOutsourcing

Implementing a services-oriented architecture (SOA) across an organization has much in common with the world of rocket science, said an executive with Software AG Inc.

Implementing a services-oriented architecture (SOA) across an organization has much in common with the world of rocket science, said an executive with Software AG Inc.

During a recent Webinar, Miko Matsumura, vice-president and deputy chief technology officer with the Germany-based business infrastructure software provider, explained that a big-picture perspective is a must for an SOA implementation, much like NASA’s goal of landing on the moon was not merely about the technology, but the United States as a country. “

SOA is not just a program spanning multiple projects, said Matsumura, rather it’s about transforming the business.

But he thinks a roadblock to SOA adoption can be leadership, remarking that “management is a little too far down in the weeds for my taste.” Again, making a rocket analogy, he said NASA may not have started with a rocket, but having then-president John F. Kennedy vow to put a man on the moon within the next decade was a much-needed “leadership statement” that ultimately drove the program to success.

That said, SOA need not be as ambitious or complex, noted Matsumura, but management must champion the implementation.

An organization should establish a small group of individuals or a strong personality to champion SOA, said Jignesh Shah, vice-president of SOA product management & marketing with Software AG. “That’s a key ingredient to SOA success.”

Those champions, continued Shah, can emerge from a variety of areas within the business, but integration managers in the IT department tend to be popular choices “because integration tends to be a top use case for SOA” and those integration managers are equipped with the technical expertise and experience of delivering in a shared services environment.

Shah has also seen champions appointed who report to the CIO, thereby really pushing that “visionary approach to rolling out SOA.” And, in larger organizations that have pure enterprise architecture functions, Matsumura said members of that group tend to be assigned the leadership position.

Matsumura, Shah, and Bjoern Brauel, also with Software AG, are co-authors of SOA for Dummies, a 100-page book published this year providing practical methods to making SOA a reality in organizations.

The book goes beyond merely defining SOA, but focuses on the implementation because, according to Matsumura, the technology is past the blueprint stage where organizations are still dreaming about building it.

Joe McKendrick, an analyst with business and IT agility forum ebizQ, said he’s observed over the past two years “this tremendous sea change in this space” where the benefits of SOA no longer need to be explained to organizations. Instead, it’s at a “roll your sleeves up” stage, said McKendrick.

And while SOA lately has experienced a lot of pushback and there are some who even surmise that the technology is “dead,” McKendrick said with the economic woes, “there is not a better time for organizations to embrace” it.

But Shah cautioned that while SOA’s value may be evident, that’s not to say it will be an overnight transformation. There “will be hurdles, there will be roadblocks,” he said.

One such hurdle, or “danger zone,” according to Matsumura, again making a rocket science analogy, is the point after take off when the SOA rocket must fight gravity lest the business fall back to the old way of doing things. So, following the investment in an SOA implementation, before significant business traction is gained, the initiative risks losing motivational energy, he explained.

Among the potential factors endangering an SOA initiative, he said, are leadership changes, funding cut-off, and vendor and consultant backlash. But, Matsumura said, “appropriate measurement and reporting can continue to feed this initial success and turn it into a sustained success.”

Investing in a long-term vision like SOA can be a hard sell, especially given the current economy. But Matsumura thinks now is a good time for an organization to invest in its infrastructure because of the available talent in the market and infrastructure vendors offering good deals. “Downturn is actually the perfect time to invest because you are separating yourself from your competition.”