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The SOA maturity model gets a fresh look

The result of a four-vendor effort, a new SOA maturity model breaks down the steps to become a service-oriented business into five levels, from building basic Web services to business automation.

No one said growing up was going to be easy, but four service-oriented architecture vendors have banded together to construct a new SOA maturity model designed to make the long road to service-oriented IT and business transformation at least a little less confusing.

The project was hatched six months ago and refined during a recent 10-city road show. It becomes generally available to the public today. The creators hope users will be able to use it as a self-assessment tool and roadmap template.

What you're trying to create is a digital business engine you can connect to anything.
Randy Heffner
AnalystForrester Research Inc.

More importantly, they envision it as a tool for those who wish to champion SOA projects within their various companies, explaining the value and achievability of integrated systems.

"If SOA is going to have an impact, people need to better understand it, particularly management because the architects have got it," said Jonathan Bachman, senior director of product marketing at Sonic Software Corp. "The reality is money flows into IT to solve business problems. It doesn't flow into IT to solve IT problems."

Sonic joined forces with Systinet Inc., AmberPoint Inc. and BearingPoint Inc. to build the model. While other vendor-driven models exist, notably BEA Systems Inc. and IBM have their own, Systinet director of product marketing Sean Kline said this model attempted to focus on the entire SOA lifecycle rather than the specifics of how a given technology gets implemented.

"There is a lot of confusion out there, and people are looking for leadership in how to attack the problem," he said. "You have lots of vendors approaching customers from many directions and our goal was to agree on a standard way to look at this, something that encompassed the big picture."

The five levels of maturity as defined by the model are:

  • Level One -- Initial services with a focus on new functionality; prime technological goals include standards adoption and legacy integration.
  • Level Two -- Architected services with a focus on cost reduction; prime technological goals include support for heterogeneous and distributed systems.
  • Level Three -- Business and collaborative services with a focus on business responsiveness; prime technological goals include reuse, ease of modification and cross-enterprise security.
  • Level Four -- Measured business services with a focus on business transformation; prime technological goals include business activity monitoring and event stream processing.
  • Level Five -- Optimized business services with a focus on business automation; prime technological goals include event-driven automation and self-correcting business processes.

Though Forrester Research Inc. was not involved in the development of the model, Forrester analyst Randy Heffner is familiar with it and said it does address some general confusion and disarray in the marketplace. He stressed the importance of striving for "organizational maturity," which focuses entire business units on service delivery, not just the creation of applications.

"What you're trying to create is a digital business engine you can connect to anything," he said. "It will look different in different organizations."

For more information

Learn about how IBM has brought hardware into its SOA strategy by acquiring DataPower

Check out our SOA Learning Guide

Beyond using this sort of model as a guidepost, Heffner suggested it might have some use as a risk management tool. For instance, if an organization that defines itself as a Level Two shop needs to undertake a Level Four project, it can plan for the greater degree of difficultly associated with the work.

"If your business needs it, you need to deliver the project, but it helps to understand you're taking a greater risk," Heffner said. "Perhaps you need to get more outside expertise to do that particular job or you need to improve your overall infrastructure to support that project."

Bachman said most Sonic customers tend to be those ready to enter Level Three, but the majority of IT shops are still at Level One, building initial Web services. Part of the goal of the model in his view is to show those organizations just getting started that SOA doesn't have to be swallowed like a horse pill.

"You make a decision to become a service-oriented architecture shop and you fund that one project at a time," he said. "It's an approach, not a single implementation."

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