Just after I returned from last month's IBM SOA IMPACT Conference, the Hurwitz team started to interview companies for case studies to be included in the second edition of SOA For Dummies. So for me, one of the benefits of attending IMPACT was getting a feel for some of the key trends in customer SOA implementations in preparation for this research.
I was particularly interested in the "Smart SOA" theme introduced at IMPACT. It seemed an apt description based on the large number of participants (6000 customers and partners) and the diversity and quantity of customer presentations (over 250 across 8 different subject matter tracks) that took place during the week.
But I must admit, initially I wasn't quite sure about the significance of using the word smart. Does implementing SOA make you smart? Do you need to get smart before you can bring SOA to your company? Or as Drew Carey, the "special guest" at the conference kickoff, joked about the "Smart SOA" theme by saying something like, "What does IBM mean by this...smart SOA as opposed to the stupid SOA our competitors sell?"
After just a few days in Las Vegas with lots of smart IBM customers and partners it was pretty easy to understand why Smart SOA does a good job of describing the current level of customer adoption of this approach. Based on my observations at IMPACT 2008, I see three major trends supporting the scenario that customers, partners, and vendors are all getting smarter about SOA.
Getting Smart about bringing IT and Business together.
Companies have moved very quickly to create a business driven (rather than IT driven) approach to their SOA initiatives. Sandy Carter, IBM VP SOA Strategy, cited some impressive statistics supporting this trend in her IMPACT keynote on SOA deployments. She quoted a recent IBM customer survey which indicated that the percentage of SOA initiatives requiring business involvement jumped from 30% in 2006 up to 70% in 2007. IT executives want to get the business involved with their SOA initiatives from the beginning and this is having an impact on how companies are selecting a SOA vendor. IT-centric approaches are out. Customers are looking to their SOA vendors for help in implementing SOA within the context of the specific requirements and best practices relevant for their own industry. Results of IBM's survey of customers indicate that the #1 criteria used to select a SOA vendor is business expertise.
And just as customers have gotten smarter about improving the collaboration between business and IT, IBM has gotten smarter about capitalizing on its deep vertical industry experience to help companies achieve success with SOA. IBM reports an 80% win rate on SOA related deals when they engage the customer in a Business Value Assessment. This is a set of tools designed to be used with both the customer LOB and IT management to ensure that the customer receives industry specific ROI business cases, key process models, and a SOA solution proposal. In addition, IBM partners and systems integrators like LiquidHub and Perficient, who both presented at IMPACT, are finding that they have more success by using industry specific knowledge to support customers in developing a SOA Roadmap based on business process and governance.
Getting Smart about educating developers, architects, and business analysts about SOA
Just a few years ago, acting in the role of SOA evangelist at a very large organization could get sort of lonely. There weren't a lot of other people around with a similar focus so sharing ideas about SOA best practices was not all that common. Now there are organizations like the SOA Consortium, a SOA advocacy group comprised of end users, service providers, and technology vendors, that use forums and online collaboration tools to share information on SOA best practices and help establish standards. By the way, the SOA Consortium (part of the OMG) has a SOA case study contest underway right now with submissions due by June 30.
At IMPACT IBM announced a Smart SOA social network to facilitate communication between IT and business executives who would want to explore issues and share ideas about SOA. The social networking experience can help people gain the education they need when they need it. The need for SOA specific education is seen as a number one priority by many companies. Lack of having sufficient staff with the right skills is still seen as a major inhibitor in developing a SOA infrastructure.
If companies are going to have a business focused approach then you need to have more developers who understand the business and business analysts with a stronger understanding of technology. Some companies have been very successful at retraining developers who may have strong mainframe skills, for example, that are no longer in such high demand so they can be participants on the SOA team. Architects are using online collaborations tools like Twitter to expand knowledge of SOA and business skills.
Getting Smart about scaling SOA
There was a big change this year at IMPACT with many customers beginning to move forward based on the success of their early deployments of business services. I talked to many customers who are now moving to scale with broader SOA implementations across business units. Customers understand that it is wise to select an initial SOA project that services a major need of the business and will show ROI and success relatively quickly. However, scaling SOA requires a different level of attention to enterprise issues such as process integrity and latency.
For example, one insurance company director of enterprise architecture told me about what it takes to scale. This director told me that his organization had deployed its first services seven or eight years ago. He has learned a lot of lessons over the years. For example, he recommends that organizations should not try to scale SOA to the enterprise level without automated governance—regardless of how large and expert the IT team happens to be. His team has found out the hard way that a lack of SOA governance will result in a failed SOA deployment.
Getting smart with SOA is certainly a journey for many of the companies we have talked to over the years. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement. Customers that I talked to at last year's IMPACT conference were excited that there were other professionals just like them in attendance. This year, there were signs that customers are moving to the next level and maybe even getting smarter.