IT chiefs vent SOA frustration

IT chiefs vent SOA frustration

Cultural issues and board-level parsimony are hindering service-oriented architecture progress

IT leaders are eager to embrace the benefits of service-oriented architecture (SOA), but many are frustrated by the dearth of best practice available to guide strategies.

A shift to SOA will help IT improve service quality, lower costs and accelerate market-beating business developments, Ruediger Spies, enterprise applications vice president at IDC, told delegates at the analyst group’s recent SOA conference. But many organisations struggle to make headway with their SOA strategies.

One SOA enthusiast is the Ministry of Defence (MoD). It is piloting an SOA-enabled command and control programme, designed to enhance its logistics operations.

“The final objective will be to use the technology to establish faster links with other nations to fight war,” said Lieutenant-Colonel John-Paul Hughes, who heads up Information Command and Battlespace Management. But the MoD faces huge challenges in getting all parts of the organisation to embrace a single set of logistical standards.

“I’m not being critical because it’s essential, but a problem is that military officers are all entrenched in their own worlds,” said Hughes. “We need to agree on a process that will run throughout air, maritime and land. There is a large drive to take ownership of this.”

Other organisations struggling to advance SOA plans include higher education institutions. Anthony Rickaby, a departmental services manager at University College London, said there was increasing awareness of the benefits that SOA could deliver, but noted that only three universities ­ City University London, Edinburgh and Newcastle ­ had embarked on such programmes.

IDC’s Spies highlighted the importance of communicating that service orientation is more than just a technical architecture. “The bottom line is that SOA is about the business because it enables businesses to adapt to changes in the industry, but a difficulty is the board level’s key focus remains cost reduction,” he said.

But Sun chief technologist Steve Elliot said there was a danger of spending too long trying to plan an SOA rollout. With some businesses pressing ahead with deployments, procrastination could prove costly, he warned. “Do not try to engineer SOA from the ground but just get things moving,” Elliot said.

Those organisations that have made headway with SOA rollouts have typically established centres of excellence, which focus on overcoming the inherent difficulties of the transition, said HP SOA business development consultant Manuel Rubio. Those centres of excellence need the clout to drive changes across the organisation, while having the technical expertise to understand the challenges of “scaling SOA across the organisation”, he added.