Blogger: Anne Thomas Manes
Eric Roch recently asked, "What Constitutes a SOA Failure?" The debate regarding SOA's demise still reigns, and quite a few people have posted numerous SOA success stories as evidence that SOA is still alive and thriving. For the most part, these success stories refer to individual integration projects implemented using an ESB or something similar. And while these individual projects may be successful, I still question whether the SOA initiative is successful. As Eric states in his post,
"I recently talked to a company that spend millions of dollars on SOA software and are now spending the next 18 months on their architecture frameworks and governance model. I have to wonder, given the time value of money, how that company will ever get to positive ROI. Especially since no one is actually talking about business related projects yet or even in the near future! All of this money was spent on toys for architects."
Joe McKendrick recently compiled some relatively positive information about SOA adoption trends, and Michael Poulin returned from QCon reporting a generally positive attitude toward SOA success. My response to Michael on the SOA discussion list was as follows:
How do they measure success/failure? Individual projects might be successful, but does that mean that the initiative as a whole is a success?
Most organizations that I've spoken with are using service-oriented middleware to do integration (SOI rather than SOA). Very few companies are actually rearchitecting their systems, i.e., simplifying their applications and data architectures in order to increase agility. Instead they are using WS-* or something similar to implement open interfaces to their existing applications (i.e., JABOWS). Over time, JABOWS typically results in increased architectural complexity and systems that are more fragile and more expensive than ever before. Although initially the initiative appears to be successful, the long term effect is actually a failure.
The best way to measure success is to measure it from the bottom line.
If an organization invests $15 million in infrastructure, education, new hires, consultants, project costs, etc, over the course of 5 years, how long will it take the organization to recoup that investment and start realizing benefits that can be quantitatively measured? Can they now actually deliver new solutions in less time and for less money than they could 5 years ago? Are their savings sufficient to offset the 5 year investment? If so, then I would agree that the initiative has been successful. If not, then you need to reassess the initiative and figure out why it has not delivered its promised benefits.
I have seen a small number of spectacular success stories. These companies have realized huge savings, they are able to deliver new solutions in significantly less time than before. All these companies adopted SOA as part of a much larger IT transformation effort, and they really focused on the architectural aspects of SOA.
I have also seen a number of companies that are starting to realize small cost savings and increased agility, but it's taken them 6+ years to get there, and they have not yet recouped their initial $15 million investment. It will probably take them another 3-4 years to break even. These companies will eventually be successful, but I suspect the business would think twice before making this type of long-term investment again.
And just in case you miss my point, I still strongly encourage organizations to invest in SOA. But my primary recommendation is to focus on architecture rather than technology. The goal of the program should focus on reducing the complexity and redundancy of the applications and data architecture.