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SOA means business says IBM exec

What does service-oriented architecture (SOA) mean to business people with little knowledge or interest in the technological side of Web services? Michael Liebow, who heads IBM's Business Consulting Services for SOA, discusses the good, the bad and the hopeful.

Michael Liebow is the vice president of Web services and service-oriented architecture (SOA) for IBM Business Consulting Services. He helped build IBM's SOA consulting practice and has spent the past three years directly involved with IT and business customers working on Web services/SOA projects. With IBM focusing on the business aspects of SOA, we recently asked him for a snapshot where business people stand now.

What's happening in terms of the business side of enterprises adopting SOA?
The dynamics are shifting in the marketplace. The large mega-projects are getting sized much smaller. In that way you don't need to go to the board for approval. The line of business manager is making the purchase decision. He's sizing the purchase smaller so he doesn't have to take it up the chain of command and he's trying to move faster. So we are trying to lay out a strategy for how you incrementally build SOA. We've announced a service offering. We have a strategy offering. We have an incremental planning offering. We have diagnostics to tell you where you are and where you are not right now. Where are you relative to your technology? Where are you relative to the business processes? Where are you relative to your infrastructure? That takes you from strategy to plan to overall vision to implementation. It helps you layout a roadmap so you can deliver business value in six months or less. That creates the overall plan and that's missing in a lot of organizations. Missing?
Some organizations are doing pilot SOA. There are no standards. There's no governance mechanism. There's not enough sponsorship at the top and line of business support. You've got people thinking that they're doing SOA, but it's the old adage about lipstick on a pig. They're dressing up something else to make it look like it, so they can get funding for it. There's just a lot of service level integration with a lot of point-to-point Web services. But some organizations are moving forward with incremental SOA?
I know many organizations that are doing SOA. They are spread over multiple industries. They are in many geographies. They may not be a biggest guy on their block but they are players in their industries. Has IBM worked up a unified SOA story for business people that makes sense to them?
Unified is the key word. We have a unified sales approach across IBM. Before we even walk into the client. will do the planning for the best approach for them. Then we discuss it with the client in a structured workshop. Then we'll lead to a plan – maybe it takes an internal white paper – to articulate the initiative across their business. The reality is you've got to show some tangible value to move things forward. From the business perspective is it always mostly going to be about ROI, so you don't need to talk about the specific technology?
The conversation really starts with the business process. It's much more about the pain points than about the underlying implementation. There may be domain issues. Cultures being cultures, you have organizations that have made commitments to certain tools and platforms. You have organizations that are sensitive to their own capabilities or lack thereof. You have a host of different challenges. So you can have the enterprise architect in a large organization struggling to figure out what the best approach is. You might have senior IT or a line of business that is fairly tech savvy, that gets it and is trying to do it. So you have these islands within any given environment that are trying to move something forward and struggling.

For more information
IBM views SOA as "business-driven computing"

SOA-enabled business transformation: The IBM story, part 1
Struggling how?
Where IT is moving it forward without senior IT support it becomes a product selection. So they chose a platform without context. They can choose the registry. They can choose management. They can choose piece parts but there's no overriding context, no methodology, no governance. The skills are light. So you're not moving to SOA. Speaking over governance, what are you saying to people in terms of SOA governance?
Governance has been a big topic for about a year. One of the things you need is some kind of governing body. You can call it whatever you like. For example, Toyota calls their governing body the Integrated Center of Excellence (ICE). Way back in 2003, we launched the Center of Excellence for SOA within IBM Global Services. That has been our way that we craft our best practices, thought leadership, methodologies. So organizations need to look to gather SOA skills. There is a shortage of skills in the market. They've got to find the guys that have the skills, stick them in a room, close the door and don't let anybody touch them. Creating this governance body with this capability is critical.

As for the process, a year ago we announced SOA Governance and Management Methods. That gives you the best practices in a package to make it easier to implement the whole approach. It's a service lifecycle that you're trying to govern. So you need to know who is creating services? Who is managing them? Who secures them? Who has existing rights over them? What level of granularity are they? What are the service level requirements? What are quality of service requirements? You have a host of issues. Ultimately what we're talking about is creating a bunch of services and making them reusable. So they've got to be tagged appropriately in a language everyone can understand. There's a whole bunch of issues that come in. Organization A doesn't need to recreate the wheel every time. And Organization B can leverage what Organization A did. So you need standard best practices about how, where and when to do this.

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