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'First, do no harm,' guides Marriott SOA plans

Marriott International's cautious approach to SOA includes governance and architecture review boards along with some terminology lifted from business school.

The primary goal John Whitridge has for service-oriented architecture adoption at Marriott International Inc. is summed up in the classic physician's credo: "First do no harm."

SOA technology alone is not sufficient to achieve SOA benefits.
John Whitridge
Vice President of Enterprise ArchitectureMarriott International Inc.

This cautious approach is designed to methodically deploy SOA so as not to disrupt the already successful operations, explained Whitridge, who is vice president of enterprise architecture for the hotel chain. The one thing he does not want SOA to do at Marriott is disrupt operations at its 2,800 properties in 67 countries, which had revenue of $11.6 billion in 2005, he told a gathering of fellow architects at last week's Open Group's Enterprise Architects Practitioners Conference in San Diego.

The goals he plans to achieve at Marriott with an SOA implementation, which is still in its early stages, are similar to those expressed by other architects in other organizations. SOA would provide "increased agility" with services-based applications that can be assembled quickly to respond to changes in the hotel market. It would provide easier paths to integration with partners, which in Marriott's case includes e-commerce Web sites that provide online hotel bookings. The reuse of services would save development costs and get new value out of existing systems.

There are no rip-and-replace projects in Whitridge's plans. The pre-SOA IT operations are supporting the enterprise successfully, he said, so he is following the old cowboy wisdom: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

The Marriott architect said his careful plan to enhance existing systems is based on the concept that the service-oriented approach is a long journey not a destination arrived at in a day. "For us," he said, "SOA is not something we're going to get to overnight."

As is common practice for beginning enterprise SOA development, the Marriott plans relies on C-level executive buy-in and brings in business people from departments such as sales and marketing. However, Whitridge cautioned his fellow architects to avoid overwhelming them with SOA-related acronyms and jargon. Rather than discuss XML, WSDL and UDDI, his program begins with a strategy and an acronym from business schools, management by objectives (MBO).

The MBO approach to the business side starts with the COO and CIO and includes all levels of management. While IT notoriously faces difficulty communicating the value of SOA to business people, Whitridge offered a list of tips for bridging the chasm. To get the point across in meetings, he said he found it is important to make sure the list of objectives IT offers to the business side:

  • Is simple to understand and communicate
  • Ensures ability to set goals and measure them
  • Articulates what we have accomplished, what we are working on and what we have deferred
  • Includes organization and process – not just technology
  • Provides the business with realistic and affordable options
  • Avoids "over commit and under deliver"
  • Eliminates "boil the ocean" or "big bang" efforts

Communicating realistic objectives to the business side is important for the architecture team in overcoming what Whitridge called one of the major SOA challenges: "SOA technology alone is not sufficient to achieve SOA benefits." Unlike technology waves of the past, SOA needs the active participation of people in sales and marketing because they are not only the potential users of the applications, their input is crucial to determine what those applications are.

To achieve this "business alignment," the Marriott SOA effort includes two official watch dog organizations where technology and business people come together to work out the details of an implementation.

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The Architecture Review Board coordinates information resources planning and funding decisions. It is also responsible for ensuring that projects follow agreed upon roadmaps and standards, Whitridge said.

The SOA Services Governance Board gathers the "cross-functional business sponsors" for the projects to make sure they are meeting the objectives and that everybody is on the same page.

These officially established groups allow business and IT to collaborate in defining what Whitridge called the "SOA journey" and make adjustments as business needs change along the way.

He said this approach is designed to overcome one of the biggest obstacles to SOA implementation: bringing onboard the skeptical business manager, who has lived through other new waves of technology that failed to live up to their promise, and hears about SOA and says: "Yeah, right."

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