Blogger: JP Morgenthal
Anne's blog entry SOA is Dead; Long Live Services has drummed up many opinions and emotions from both technical and non-technical camps. The intellectual gyrations are phenomenal, but at the end of the day, if it only served to break us out of our doldrums, create drama and generate traffic for Twitter, then we have a net sum gain of zero.
Prior to joining Burton Group I was heading up a software company that developed Web Services for Supply-Chain Management. We used all the key buzzwords in our marketing literature, SOA, Supply-Chain-as-a-Service, etc. What we developed definitely leveraged SOA principles. We focused on granularity of the services and ensured we didn't introduce tight-coupling between services, which, by the way, was a royal pain in the a$$! But, to Anne's point, the desired outcome was achieved simply by focusing on the services. When the resulting services were layered on top of monolithic, home-grown SCM applications, we created an environment where new capabilities and business processes could be added in weeks verses months.
Lesson #1: Services is the new components. Call them what you will. I am not a fan of the term "service" because I believe it is too overloaded, but all the good terms were already applied in years past and are now associated with failed initiatives. Still, the key here is tactical works and it's okay to be tactical; especially if you are not prepared to commit to the costs, resources and time to take a holistic look at your information technology assets and structure them in a way that will benefit your enterprise long-term.
Lesson #2: The concept of word-of-mouth needs to be totally re-evaluated in the age of social networking. I actually noticed re-tweets pointing to Anne's blog entry in multiple languages. The speed that this news traveled across the World was incredible. And along with this lesson a reminder that what you post on the Internet can, and most likely will, be seen by an audience you never anticipated.
Lesson #3: There's a lot of smart people out there, too! I saw some really well-thought-out responses to Anne's blog entry and some great comments. There was also various perspectives on the issue from practitioners and vendors alike. Being in the midst of the game, it's easy to forget that the poor schnook on the sidelines doesn't have a clue who to listen to. Hence, my advice to them ... listen to me! (that was a joke for those humoristically disabled). In all seriousness, it illustrates the importance of trust that can only be seriously built face-to-face and cannot be replaced by all the Tweets in the world (yes, that was a pun).
Lesson #4: A group of smart people can be ignorant. There was a lot of responses directed at, and rightfully so, "the next shiny thing" that IT will move toward. Will it be Cloud? SaaS? Mashups? To Anne's point, "The latest shiny new technology will not make things better." As I like to say, business has a Neanderthal brain--it lives in the "now", cannot incorporate past experience into current situations and likes shiny things. There's a great quote, that I could not locate, about the lack of utility of people operating in a group that is very apt here. If you know it, please share.
Lesson #5: It was Marshal McLuhan that said, "Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication." I found this statement remarkably relevant in this situation. It seems many individuals felt the need to make a statement irrelevant of the original thesis. McLuhan's message can be applied at many levels, but most simply applied, I saw quite a few postings that incorrectly addressed either the issue or the original content. For me, these individuals were seeking to leverage the medium regardless of the content to gain attention.
Lesson #6: Shakespeare was a smart dude! I quote, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." I don't know if I'd go so far as to say good architecture is sweet smelling, but the statement holds. Whether you call it SOA or call it good architectural principles, the act of designing for longevity, agility, reuse is a good thing and will reduce total cost of ownership over time.
Lesson #6a: If you're flipping properties, don't get caught holding any when the bubble bursts! Many businesses treat their business like flipping properties in the real estate market. For them, software just has to be good enough, not great. It's a disposable mindset in which they believe that business changes very rapidly and they want to invest just enough in IT to keep the ship running. This mentality limits perspective to months versus years, but this may be okay. I'm not critcizing this approach as it seems in many cases to be viable. The key, just like in real estate, is don't get caught holding in a downturn. As the business climate slows, like we are seeing now, the cycles of change get further apart and you will be left with IT investments that cannot support continued execution without more investment in a climate where being frugal would be best. Still, I wouldn't be trying to sell management in these businesses on the virtues of SOA governance anytime soon. Moreover, you can bet these will be the first businesses trying to run 100% on Cloud infrastructure. That is, in the land of the blind, a one-eyed architect is ... essentially out of work!
As for any advice I have on SOA futures, its death, its life, etc., I will defer (happily!) to Anne, Richard, Chris and Mike at Burton Group and revel in the fact that I get to cover other amorphous topics like BPM and PaaS!