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Warring tribes hold SOA hostage

Traditional enterprise architects and SOA architects and developers are like two tribes fighting over turf, according to a consultant who is trying to reconcile the warring factions that threaten service-oriented progress.

You know those charts that show how SOA development works with little arrows running back and forth between the enterprise architects and the SOA development team as they exchange helpful tips and information? It may not be as simple as the diagram would lead you to believe. The architects and developers may be pulling arrows out of their backs, according to David Linthicum, CEO of The Linthicum Group LLC, a consulting firm specializing in service-oriented architecture.

It's almost to the point of being dysfunctional in a lot of these organizations.
David Lithicum
CEOThe Linthicum Group LLC

Internecine warfare between enterprise architects and SOA developers can be added to the list of obstacles blocking the advance of SOA, joining a dearth of SOA architectural talent and lack of understanding/buy-in on the business side, he said.

In what he describes as a turf war over who will control SOA, Linthicum said, "There is an SOA tribe and there is an enterprise architecture tribe." The unhealthy competition between the two tribes is creating a dysfunctional IT human resources environment. "This is a core issue in my world right now," he said during a presentation as part of a teleconference on Friday titled "Marching Toward SOA: Does EA Lead the Band?" sponsored by Shared Insights LLC., a technology education and conference company.

For his talk on the tribal warfare between enterprise architects and SOA developers, he showed a slide of two puppies in a tug of war over their master's slipper. Asked if that adequately describes the ferocity of the struggle, Linthicum quipped that more often that not it looks like "two guys in mid-life crisis pulling apart an architecture diagram."

Based on his current experience working as an outside consultant, Linthicum described an IT human resources environment where the promise of SOA is lost because the two sides do not understand their roles and in some cases aren't doing a great job.

"The notion of service-oriented architecture and the value it brings to the enterprise isn't embraced as well as it should be by the existing enterprise architecture guys," he said. "Some traditional enterprise architects have not done a stellar job in expanding the opportunities within service-oriented architecture. And the SOA guys have not figured out how SOA meshes with existing enterprise architecture, generally speaking." He noted that there are exceptions but there aren't many.

Linthicum said there are organizations where the enterprise architects and SOA teams are working together, but asked for an off-the-top of his head estimate of how often he is finding that the tribes are coming together, he said "I think it's about 15 percent of the organizations I'm dealing with currently. I don't think a lot of people have come together on this."

Asked how that percentage might be raised, Linthicum said identifying that there is a problem is the first step. "One of the things I've taken on as a mission is to really shine a light on it because I think ultimately you can't have one without the other. You can't have an effective service-oriented architecture without buy-in and control from the centralized enterprise architecture organization within these Global 2000 companies."

The prescription for ending the warfare would be for everybody to get along, according to Linthicum.

"For service-oriented architecture to work it has to learn to mesh with existing enterprise architecture practices," he said. "And for enterprise architecture to be more effective it needs to mesh with the existing service-oriented architecture practices."

Problems that Linthicum said needed to be resolved to bring the two sides together include confusion resulting from too many competing frameworks for the SOA approach and a lack of leadership within organizations.

"You have confusion in the service-oriented architecture space," he argued. "We're coming up with nonsensical buzz words such as SOA 2.0. Those who understand architecture and understand that service-oriented architecture is nothing more than an architectural pattern, then you really can't have a version number on the back of it."

Neither vendors nor analyst firms nor standards bodies are helping by proposing what Linthicum called "a competing set of framework approaches." Unable to find a framework that fits their needs, he quipped: "A lot of organizations are choosing to roll their own."

All this reflects an overall lack of leadership on SOA, Linthicum told the teleconference.

"I don't think there's any one organization, vendor, person, anybody who is really driving this in terms of how service-oriented architecture fits together with the enterprise architecture," he said. "There are people who think they are and vendors who think they are leading the band, but no one's leading the band currently. I think that's going to change over time. It has to change very quickly. It has to come to a common set of understanding around semantics and around vision."

In the current state of warfare and chaos, Linthicum said that in his consulting business, he sees SOA applications being done as a work-around within the overall enterprise.

"In many instances when I'm dealing with clients I'm part of a rogue project," he said. "I'm not part of a blessed strategic project within the organization. They're building a service-oriented architecture in essence by wiring around existing infrastructure and existing governance."

What needs to change he said is for enterprise architecture to take a holistic approach that not only oversees the design of the existing infrastructure, but can adapt it to new innovations ranging from SOA to Software as a Service (SaaS) and then Web 2.0.

"For this to be successful all those things – SOA, SaaS, Web 2.0 – have to be driven up into an enterprise architecture and they need to control how those things are implemented in an organization, with a centralized control mechanism so there's no wasted time and wasted effort," Linthicum said.

The problem as the consultant sees it is a classic "failure to communicate," and the solution would be to improve communications between the enterprise architects and the SOA teams. One current obstacle to that is that both sides believe they know the other's job better than those currently doing it do, the consultant said.

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"The funny thing I'm finding out is that everybody in each world thinks they can do the other person's job," he said. "I meet with enterprise architects and they think service-oriented architecture is something they know all about and can definitely do it. Therefore they don't need to learn anything about it. The service-oriented architecture crowd thinks they really should be doing enterprise architecture, should be promoted in the organization, have the enterprise architect fired and have them take over because they think they could do the job much better."

As a result, Linthicum said he finds his role as an outside consultant often requires diplomatic skills to bring the two warring factions to the bargaining table.

"There's not a lot of synergy that's out there yet," he said. "It's almost to the point of being dysfunctional in a lot of these organizations. In fact, my role as a consultant in many of these organizations is getting in between the architecture group, typically corporate, and a service-oriented architecture project and then making them work together so they can find core synergies and do what they both need to be doing that's adding value to the business."

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