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SOA help wanted - information architects

SOA needs data, but analysts find enterprise architects have been slow in developing information architecture initiatives due to issues that include company politics and even IT foot dragging. Though there is optimism that this is changing.

Information architecture, considered critical to a successful service-oriented architecture (SOA) implementation, is lagging behind partially because of organizational resistance within the enterprise and even within IT, according to analysts.

I think what we are starting to see is evidence that companies across the board are simply doing a poor job of architecture overall.
Ron Schmelzer
Senior AnalystZapThink LLC.

Only half of enterprise architects have had a formal information or data architecture program in place for more than two years, according to a recent online poll by Forrester Research Inc. However, Forrester offers statistical and anecdotal evidence that the other half are moving forward on information architecture to support SOA and business process management (BPM).

But the fact that only half of the architects in the poll have had data architecture programs for at least two years is still a little disconcerting to Gene Leganza, a Forrester analyst who authored a brief report on the enterprise architect survey results. "How is this possible," he writes, "when common wisdom has it that information is fundamental to all architecture efforts? The fact is that information or data architecture initiatives are typically fraught with political obstacles and perceptions of limited near-term value."

Leganza notes that despite its importance to overall architecture, data sources tend to be closely guarded by departments within an enterprise and any attempt to change the way information is handled runs the risk of being mired in company politics. He noted in his report that "Forrester's discussions with architects indicate that not only have architects had enough technology strategy issues to fill their agendas, but they also have been well aware of the political issues regarding data 'ownership' in their organizations that would present obstacles to information and data architecture efforts."

Beyond departmental politics, Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst with ZapThink LLC., sees the lack of attention to information architecture as part of a larger problem slowing SOA adoption. "I think what we are starting to see is evidence that companies across the board are simply doing a poor job of architecture overall."

Rather than seeing business users guarding their data preserves, Schmelzer finds fault with IT, the very department that should be promoting new architectural approaches in support of overall SOA implementation.

"For the past 40 years or so of IT, companies have gotten away with project-driven architecture that results in a porous, inflexible and tangled weave of products, technologies, dependencies and approaches," Schmelzer said. "SOA brings to the surface enterprise architecture as a discipline that many companies are lacking. As part of the EA deficit, many companies lack technology-specific and information-specific strategic architecture as well, including information and semantic architectures."

He warns that CIOs and CTOs need to pay attention to the lack of architectural skills and initiatives within their organizations. "It's no surprise to me that companies are lacking in such critical architecture, but it should be a surprise to C-level execs that they don't have any real strategic control over their IT assets and instead treat IT management as firefighting rather than strategic planning."

Asked if enterprise architects have the skills needed to design information architecture, Schmelzer, who teaches classes for certifying architects, replied: "I think some of them do, but I think skills for architecture in general are lacking. That's the biggest thing holding up overall SOA adoption."

Despite the obstacles, the outlook for the future of information architecture is not altogether bleak, analysts agree.

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The Forrester report, titled "Information and Data Architecture Initiatives Are On the Rise," sees a groundswell building for information architecture. "Despite the difficulties, enterprise architects whose EA programs do not have information or data architecture components are deciding that they can no longer function without them," wrote Leganza, who co-authored the report with two of his Forrester analyst colleagues, Mike Gilpin and Megan Daniels. The drivers behind this is the need for a comprehensive information architecture as enterprises adopt SOA along with BPM, the Forrester analysts report.

Responding to the Forrester poll more than 50 percent of enterprise architects said they either have started or plan to start an information architecture initiative.

Schmelzer also sees room for optimism. "On the plus side," he said, "there's a huge movement to focus SOA efforts on not just process, infrastructure, and application-oriented activities, but also on the governance, information and data aspects as well. We hope SOA serves as a great excuse to get EA done right once and for all."

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