Over the last year, Dr. Susy Chan, a fellow faculty member here at DePaul, and I have been interviewing larger firms in high tech and insurance industries about how they have adopted web services. What we are finding is underwhelming.
Unsurprisingly, for these larger and more complex firms, web services (WS) and service oriented architecture (SOA) adoption is following the path of least resistance. Firms are selecting their early WS and SOA projects based on a combination of limited risk, reasonable payoff and more importantly, steering clear of political landmines. Many initiatives did not involve direct or heavy customer contact (were internal to the firm) and were by no means any novel aggregation or recombination of business processes. More often than not the projects were tidier bundles of technology services.
While our research is still ongoing, we were struck by the fact that WS and SOA early adoption seems to follow traditional distributed computing adoption patterns. Most of the elements of WS and SOA are only understood by the technologists. Business leaders in the firms proceed without knowing how these new technical approaches can create advantage. WS and SOA are viewed as “geek” acronyms. None of this rose to the level of being a C-Level strategy.
One firm with a federated IT model with more power in the business units than at HQ found an innovative and political use for web services. The business unit championing this technology is using it to integrate disparate systems without directly challenging current organizational alignments, existing business processes and even the existing arrangement of technology services. The champions just wanted to get access to other business units’ content to try and do a better job of cross selling different products without any imperial entanglements such as having to implement a new system or needing to consolidate technology services. This firm is using web services to avoid the very same thing it is supposed to challenge – and improve.
In this regard, web services are lipstick on a pig. Useful lipstick, but lipstick nonetheless.
Are you willing to kiss this pig?
Vince Kellen is Vice President for Information Services (CIO) at DePaul University and a member of the faculty for DePaul’s computer science graduate program