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Strategic SOA outpacing tactical Web services for ROI

A new Aberdeen Group survey that tactical Web services implementations do not pay off as well as strategic SOA efforts validates other analysts and consultants' experience.

The Just a Bunch of Web Services (JBOWS) approach not only does not amount to a strategic implementation of service-oriented architecture (SOA), it also does not pay off in return on investment (ROI), according to a new report from Aberdeen Group, a Harte-Hanks Company.

In fact, the organizations that are the most successful with SOA are the ones that aren't allowing the middleware vendors to drive their initiatives.
Jason Bloomberg
Senior AnalystZapThink LLC.

Organizations investing in a "full SOA infrastructure," reported better results in terms of lower application development and maintenance costs and high end user satisfaction, than those doing tactical Web services, according to the Aberdeen survey. The report, "SOA Middleware Takes the Lead: Picking Up Where Web Services Leaves Off," covered results of a worldwide survey of 150 organizations and concluded that investment in enterprise service bus products, as well as registries and repositories pays off.

The report, which focused more on how organizations felt about the value of SOA, rather than on ROI metrics, found, for example, that companies that are deploying full SOA applications reported a 90 percent improvement in end-user satisfaction, versus 15 percent of those using a mix of SOA and Web services.

Among what Aberdeen considered to be the "best of class" in terms of building SOA based on middleware and registry/repositories, 100 percent reported a reduction in development costs and 72 percent reported a reduction in maintenance costs.

The report commissioned by BEA Systems Inc. and Hitachi Consulting Corp., also focused on the value of middleware. While agreeing that the report validates much of what they are seeing in real world SOA implementations, Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst, ZapThink LLC., and David Linthicum, CEO of Linthicum Group LLC., took a broader perspective.

Both of them repeated the mantra: "SOA is something you do, not something you buy."

Speaking on behalf of the ZapThink analysts, Bloomberg said, "We definitely agree that organizations who are implementing SOA middleware are more likely to achieve higher performance than those that are simply implementing Web services."

However, Bloomberg made a distinction between just buying middleware and implementing SOA.

"The fact of the matter is, many organizations who purchase so-called SOA middleware are not implementing SOA at all, but rather are using that middleware for traditional integration with the addition of Web services capabilities," he said. "In fact, the organizations that are the most successful with SOA are the ones that aren't allowing the middleware vendors to drive their initiatives."

Linthicum, who emphasizes the importance of taking a strategic approach to SOA with detailed planning prior to any product purchases, said he believes the vendors in the space would do well to follow a more strategic approach. In fact, he believes they could actually sell more products that way.

"I agree with Aberdeen that you need to have middleware technology to be successful with SOA," Linthicum said. "However, I'm not sure there's a direct correlation with what you spend and the success. The direct correlation is how much planning work is done before you select a technology, and select the right technology, not just buy technology."

Having worked the past five years developing ROI metrics for SOA for his business and government clients, he said there is no quick way to get a payoff on SOA.

"SOA is going to take a few years before you even understand the value that it's bringing to your enterprise," Linthicum said.

He acknowledges that the approach that emphasizes upfront strategic planning rather than upfront investment in products flies in the faces of how vendors sell products, but he still believes it would ultimately pay off for both the vendors and the customers.

"Some of the mistakes that vendors make is they have a tendency to sell tactically," he said, "and therefore have a very tough time defining the value around very tactical implementations of their technology. What they need to do is learn how to sell strategically. What is the end game here? In terms of the overall systemic value that the architecture is going to bring to the enterprise, and quantify that number and then be able to provide feedback on how much impact the investment is having on ROI."

Linthicum admits that strategic approach is still a hard sell for vendors because of the corporate culture that tends to live from quarter to quarter. With executives and managers bonuses often based on quarterly performance, an SOA project that may not pay dividends for several years can be a hard sell.

For more information
Finding ROI in SOA

Registry key to SOA ROI, says report

The pressure to do tactical Web services applications was evidenced in a quote from an anonymous CIO for pharmaceutical company in the Aberdeen report. He told the survey takers, "We can bang together composite applications with Web clients to our legacy applications as fast as the line-of-business asks. Satisfying the business is more important right now than a five-year SOA build out plan."

Vendors, consultants and customers all are struggling to justify the investment in time and money that SOA requires, Linthicum said. As is true of SOA itself, there are no easy answers to that problem.

One value of the Aberdeen report is the finding that the organizations that made the greatest commitment to doing a full SOA implementation reported the highest levels of satisfaction with the payoff, including the 100 percent that said they were reducing development costs.

While the quarterly viewpoint persists in many organizations, SOA does not appear to be an exception to one of the rules advocated by the late total quality management (TQM) guru, Dr. W. Edwards Deming: "Do it right the first time."

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