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Memo to CIOs: Tout SOA's business benefits, says Aberdeen

IT will be the first beneficiary of an SOA with faster implementation and lower integration costs, so CIOs have to make the case for a delayed ROI for business, according to a new Aberdeen report.

When it comes to service-oriented architecture, CIOs need to keep their minds on business and business on their minds, according to William A. Mougayar, vice president and service director at Aberdeen Group in Boston.

 The CIO has to educate the business that with SOA, it's such a paradigm shift that it requires a certain level of investment before ROI is realized.
William A. Mougayar
Vice President and Service DirectorAberdeen Group

One way to do so, he said, is to turn the IT organization into service-oriented IT. That means defining and delivering IT in terms of business services that line-of-business managers can understand, according to Mougayar's recent report, "The SOA in IT Benchmark Report: What CIOs Should Know about How SOA Is Changing IT." The result, Mougayar said, will bring IT and business to that much-sought-after alignment.

"The business/IT alignment will become easier to achieve because a business service 'binds' the IT and business at the process level right into the functionality delivered," Mougayar said. "This means that any 'change' automatically makes a 'business change' and an 'IT change' at the same time, so it's interlocked."

In Mougayar's report, limited visibility for SOA value was cited as the top obstacle to SOA adoption by 41% of Aberdeen survey respondents. In fact, only 16% of the companies surveyed had more than 24 months of experience with SOA (21% in large companies), and only 14% had managed or completed at least three SOA-related projects (21% in large companies).

Once an SOA has a larger footprint within an organization, the report said, the benefits will become more tangible. Yet there's a bit of a chicken-egg dilemma: IT has to reap the benefits of an SOA—managing complexity, application reuse, faster implementation and lower integration costs—before the business side of the house starts to feel the effects, such as faster reaction to change and increased competitiveness. So CIOs also have to make the case for a delayed return on investment at a time when businesses seem to want an almost immediate ROI on technology investments.

"The CIO's case for ROI will be realized in two steps," Mougayar said. "One, within IT. Two, for the business once the IT solution/implementation is ready. The CIO has to educate the business that with SOA, it's such a paradigm shift that it requires a certain level of investment before ROI is realized."

According to the Aberdeen survey, the top strategic action to address/implement an SOA was a pilot to showcase early success, cited by 55% of respondents.

"However," Mougayar, "the ROI for the business happens not on Day 1 of the roll-out, but at the first opportunity of a 'change' being required. IT can deliver the change rapidly and that makes the business more competitive, responsive, etc. So, on Day 1, any application looks the same whether SOA or not. It's after that the benefits are realized in the 'change-time" lifecycle."

While the CIO's role is critical for spearheading an SOA effort, Mougayar's report also stressed the increasing importance of the SOA architect. According to the Aberdeen survey, 40% of respondents said the CIO is leading the SOA effort at their organization, while 39% said the IT architect/planning is heading the effort.

Leading organizations, the report said, are creating the position of senior SOA architect, responsible for the SOA blueprint, vision, governance and transition roadmap. "I know of IT head-hunters/recruiters that are searching for senior SOA architect positions for multi-billion dollar companies, now," Mougayar said. "It's more about migration than total replacement. It's almost like knowing which pieces to remove and replace gradually without wrecking the house, but you need to have a master plan, a new target architecture."

For more information

Read about 2005: The year SOA broke big

Learn why SOA means money for IT workers

Mougayar recommends that organizations create an SOA competency center to actually lead an SOA project, rather than the architect, particularly at the beginning phases. Eventually, he said, the knowledge is transferred to the entire IT group and ultimately the organization itself.

"You form a group and let them manage the delivery of the first SOA project or delivery/implementation and they learn from it," he said. "What's important is to have a concentration of knowledge and best practices and not spread it out thinly. However, I see the SOA competency center as an interim step that's important in the beginning —perhaps two years — but eventually this knowledge has to spread to the rest of IT and the organization."

Eventually, he said, "everyone will be competent in SOA, what it does and how to deliver on it."

And what SOA will ultimately deliver, according to Aberdeen, will be benefits shared by both IT and business: Continuous alignment, lower maintenance and overall IT costs, lifecycle visibility and business process management, and development of new IT-enabled capabilities.

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