A frequent question to the SOA Consortium is “What are real people doing with SOA?”. Sure, folks see and appreciate the winning case studies. But, what about the “every organization”. What problems, or opportunities, are being resolved using a SOA approach? What’s the best place to start? Top-down from business strategy? Bottoms-up from IT projects? Somewhere in the middle?
This is best answered in three parts, starting by level-setting on business-driven SOA.
By “business-driven SOA”, we mean three things:
1. Creating a portfolio of services that represent capabilities offered by, or required of, your organization. Those capabilities may represent business, information, or technology concepts.
2. Composing, or orchestrating, those services along with events, rules and policies, into business processes and solutions that fulfill business scenarios.
3. Never proceed without a business outcome in mind. That “business outcome” could be cost and complexity reduction via a rationalized IT portfolio. In other words, “business-driven” doesn’t require a business person tapping you on the shoulder, it means executing for business reasons.
Next, our take on “SOA initiatives”, which is, there shouldn’t be any. Rather, there should only be business initiatives that (when appropriate) use a SOA approach. Sure, it sounds like semantic nit-picking, but in actuality it’s a lesson from the trenches. Focus on the business problem, not the SOA grand challenge.
As you know, business initiatives can arise from strategic decisions, business architecture/design decisions, and/or operational results. And since SOA can be applied to a variety of business situations, it only makes sense that SOA can appear at point, from strategy to operations. In other words, there is no best starting point, only the best starting point for you.
As these business initiatives are further refined in planning and execution, business and implementation details are surfaced, which also may call for a SOA approach. For example, Joint Business and IT Planning activities may surface common process, function and/or information needs, across projects. These are potential drivers for a SOA approach.
This business and IT activity continuum is expressed by the blue, green and yellow boxes, and grey arrows and boundaries, in the diagram below. While blue represents business activities, and yellow represents IT activities, we’ve learned that the most successful organizations spend their time in the green, where business and IT continuously collaborate.
Finally, the business scenarios. Referring to the diagram below, in each column of the continuum, we’ve listed real world SOA approach drivers. For example, strategic business initiatives that have benefited from a SOA approach include introducing new business capability, entering a new or adjacent market, integrating mergers and acquisitions, and introducing multi-channel strategies.
We captured these drivers during interactions with practitioners (real people) over the last three years. These interactions included our executive summit series, our community of practice discussions, invited speakers at our events, case study contest submissions, and the thousands of practitioners we’ve met via industry events, private forums, and in their conference rooms.
SOA Approach Drivers Diagram, October 2009 version
[Click on diagram to enlarge]