As service-oriented architecture (SOA) becomes more of a reality and less of a buzzword, there will be greater demand and financial incentive for architects skilled in creating SOAs.
In addition to experience with integration technologies and Web services, SOA architects will need to have a strong understanding of the enterprise from a business perspective. Experts and enterprise managers said IT shops thinking of transitioning to SOA don't necessarily need to shell out big bucks for training, but rather get development teams thinking in terms of aligning services with the business.
"SOA isn't that different from past efforts and enterprise architecture, such as CORBA and DCOM. The differences are more at the design and business level," said Benjamin Moreland, assistant director of application infrastructure delivery at The Hartford Financial Services Group, an insurance and investment provider in Connecticut. "The transition from object-oriented and component methodologies to SOA is more along the lines of thinking of your reusable services as business services, with the emphasis on the business function contract."
To do SOA, enterprise architects need to understand business requirements from an IT perspective. They need to know how things like supply chain, customer relationship management, call centers and outward marketing would fit into IT, said Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst at ZapThink LLC, of Waltham, Mass.
Designing an SOA architect
While Bloomberg and Moreland agree a cornerstone of SOA architecture is knowledge of a specific business domain or vertical industry, they diverge on the prerequisites needed to become an SOA architect.
"If I was looking for SOA developers, I would look for Java or .NET developers," Moreland said. "From our perspective, SOA development starts with the architects that need to be knowledgeable of the standards, XML, SOAP, WSDL and UDDI. The developers just need to be aware of the selected tools that are really no different from what middleware developers use today."
But being a Java or .NET developer with knowledge of Web services standards is not enough, Bloomberg said.
"One of the challenges with SOA is that because it's enterprise architecture at a higher level of abstraction, it requires skills at that architecture level. You can't just take a Java developer, teach them how to do Web services and make them into a service-oriented architect," Bloomberg said. "Java and .NET developers have been doing integration through Web services for three-plus years now, but these are just baby steps toward SOA."
Although there has been formal education on how to implement Web services and do integration for some time now, formal SOA training has only recently started to emerge. The increase in demand for SOA talent has seen the rise of large professional services organizations training their consultants on SOA.
Searching for SOA talent
Today's SOA architects were trained by large professional services firms like IBM Corp. and Electronic Data Systems Corp., of Plano, Texas, or are employed by early adopter organizations such as insurance and financial services firms like The Hartford. The U.S. federal government has been doing SOA for quite a while as well, Bloomberg said.
Insurance giants, such as The Hartford, have been able to harvest in-house resources to address their SOA needs, according to Moreland. Managers can find experienced talent in the same places they always have -- in their own companies.
"Developers love to work on new technologies, so I do not believe any additional incentives are needed," Moreland said.
Nevertheless, for enterprises lacking the IT depth of The Hartford, the overall demand for SOA expertise will rise in the coming year to two years, but consulting firms are turning out SOA consultants at a rate far less than what companies will need, Bloomberg said.
"There's going to be a flood of less experienced architects chasing the dollars, so all of a sudden, there may be all these SOA architects springing up; however, good SOA architects are always going to be in short supply," Bloomberg said. "This talent squeeze will cause the rates of the more experienced consultants to go up."
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