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SOA & WOA: Article

SOA Issues Are People Issues...Not Technology

The core issue is that IT thinks tactically, and SOA is strategic - they are not finding a middle ground

According to the Burton Group, the issues around SOA are not so much about technology and complexity as they are about the people and the processes within an enterprise. Indeed, in a recent article by Jon Brodkin, some of these issues are highlighted.

“The state of the union of SOA right now is there’s some fatigue set in,” Howard [Burton Group’s Chris Howard] said, noting that when he recently asked an audience of 300 people whether their SOA efforts were going well, only a half dozen responded positively.

“The problem’s not technology,” Howard said. “People and processes are at the heart of what’s wrong with SOA as it currently exists in enterprises.”

I know I’ve been a broken record about this issue for a few years now, and while it’s nice to get this validation, it’s not nice to hear that SOA progress is hindered by office politics, turf battles, and good old-fashioned laziness. That’s just the truth of the matter. The core issue is that IT thinks tactically, and SOA is strategic. They are not finding a middle ground.

Issues with SOA continue to be that SOA is a core and systemic change to the way we do IT. Change is something everyone seems to embrace conceptually, but when it comes down to actually changing systems that are a part of someone’s job security, that’s when things get ugly, fast.

Moreover, those who are tasked with driving SOA within their enterprise are not given the money and/or the power to drive change. Instead they are asked to “convince” and “influence.” That never works; you have to control their budgets and be able to fire them in order to drive change at the speed it needs to be driven.

The counter to that argument is that those tasked with building SOA are doing a poor job in defining the value to the C-levels. Frankly, CEOs, CFOs, and even CIOs have heard it all before...reuse...agility...valuable technology change...and they never received the promised results. Thus they are skeptical with SOA and want some better data points and business cases. IT can’t seem to get those business cases completed, and that’s hindering progress as well.

The fix is easy. Just do the following:

  • Define the business cases clearly. If you can’t, don’t do SOA.
  • Empower those who need to drive the systemic change that SOA requires, typically, with the money and the authority to do something. Else, don’t bother. You need to control the money and be able to fire people if this is to work in a reasonable amount of time. Otherwise, you’re in endless meetings with people who have agendas that don’t include rebuilding the architecture for agility and reuse.
  • Think long term and strategic, not short term and tactical. It’s okay; things won’t collapse as you move from a reactive to a proactive mode. Indeed, that’s how companies win their markets.
  • Start small, but keep the momentum going. Small battles win the war, and little by little the architecture will get better if you just keep moving the ball forward.

This is perhaps the motivation behind the new Web-oriented architecture movement, or WOA. In essence, developers and architects are so frustrated with the people and process issues within the enterprise that they are circumventing the politics and turf issues by outsourcing bits and pieces of architecture to Web-based development and hosting resources. I can’t say that I blame them.


  • Brodkin, Jon. “SOA failures traced to people, process issues.” Network World, April 30, ’08.

More Stories By David Linthicum

Dave Linthicum is Sr. VP at Cloud Technology Partners, and an internationally known cloud computing and SOA expert. He is a sought-after consultant, speaker, and blogger. In his career, Dave has formed or enhanced many of the ideas behind modern distributed computing including EAI, B2B Application Integration, and SOA, approaches and technologies in wide use today. In addition, he is the Editor-in-Chief of SYS-CON's Virtualization Journal.

For the last 10 years, he has focused on the technology and strategies around cloud computing, including working with several cloud computing startups. His industry experience includes tenure as CTO and CEO of several successful software and cloud computing companies, and upper-level management positions in Fortune 500 companies. In addition, he was an associate professor of computer science for eight years, and continues to lecture at major technical colleges and universities, including University of Virginia and Arizona State University. He keynotes at many leading technology conferences, and has several well-read columns and blogs. Linthicum has authored 10 books, including the ground-breaking "Enterprise Application Integration" and "B2B Application Integration." You can reach him at david@bluemountainlabs.com. Or follow him on Twitter. Or view his profile on LinkedIn.

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