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How SOA may thrive in a recession

With a possible economic downturn coming and bringing tighter IT budgets with it, we asked some thought leaders in the IT world how SOA might survive or even thrive in a recession.

"Odds of Recession Seen Rising" was the Wall Street Journal headline for a survey of economic forecasters this past Friday. did its own survey of thought leaders who follow service-oriented architecture to see how they thought an economic downturn would impact SOA planning and implementation. Specifically, we asked this question: What will SOA need to achieve in an economic downturn to prove it deserves its agile-business, cost-savings hype?

Companies that slow down or cancel strategic IT initiatives due to general economic slowdowns are the least likely to prepare for and appreciate the benefits of SOA.
Dana Gardner
Principal AnalystInterarbor Solutions LLC.

Three key practices required
Neil Ward-Dutton, research director, Macehiter Ward-Dutton

The real question here is "what will people need to achieve with SOA?" and it's not just me being pedantic. Part of the challenge I've seen in many organizations which have struggled with SOA has come from them thinking that SOA would be something they could just buy, with benefits forthcoming.

The truth is that SOA doesn't do anything by itself - it's just a set of concepts. You have to know how to take those concepts and apply them most effectively in your organization. Because of the transformational nature of SOA, that means thinking not only about technical issues, but also about organizational and management issues. In a weak economic environment, to achieve the right result, you have to look at three key points.

First: transform your approach to software delivery incrementally, focusing initially on one or two areas where you know that change is going to happen and keep happening. Use SOA to minimize the future cost of change in one or two high-profile areas like this and you'll demonstrate how IT can minimize costs and still support ongoing innovation.

Second: set up a small "center of excellence" to lead these projects and develop skills and helping educate everyone else.

Third: get your center of excellence to really collaborate with the business – to learn about the most suitable problems to tackle; to help measure the impact of the shift to SOA and to turn them into champions for further transformation.

How SOA may prove itself
Joe McKendrick, analyst, Evans Data Corp.

We don't know yet exactly how companies will leverage SOA in tough economic times. In its current incarnation, SOA as we know it has only been around for four or five years – so it's only known an expanding economy. So companies have had the luxury, if you want to call it that, of devoting additional resources to kick-start SOA efforts.

I would expect, then, to see a mixed scenario for SOA adoption in the event of rough economic times. It's probably going to break both ways, depending on how far a company has progressed down the SOA path.

Many companies would pull back resources from what they view as non-critical or futures-oriented activities, and that may include SOA. This will likely be the case in companies that either haven't established a clear, specific business case for SOA or just haven't quite got SOA yet.

For other companies, SOA may prove its mettle, offering a means to streamline processes and reduce redundancies within their development and integration operations. When times get rough, companies get most skittish about new hiring. A case can be made for SOA efforts that enable organizations to continue to run or even expand current operations without adding additional staff to build new services or maintain them.

Take a long-term view
Dana Gardner, principal analyst, Interarbor Solutions LLC.

SOA is a long-term IT methodology. IT is a long-term business function. Neither should be susceptible to short-term economic fluctuations. Companies that slow down or cancel strategic IT initiatives due to general economic slowdowns are the least likely to prepare for and appreciate the benefits of SOA. Chances are they are not even finished with Web-enabling their applications.

So, for those organizations most likely to cut IT budgets on the specter of macro-economic fluctuations, they are probably not yet serious about SOA. They will be more likely to remain in constant firefighting mode, trying to keep their databases up and email from choking. Those organizations that recognize SOA as fundamental will continue to invest and be all the more competitive at the other end of the business cycle.

Emphasize ROI
David S. Linthicum, managing partner, ZapThink LLC.

SOA always needs to prove its value and during times of economic uncertainly, where capital budgets are contracting, the best approach is to focus on short term objectives that are directly related to the generation or revenue. This does not replace a long term SOA strategy, which is very important, it's just a way to provide leadership with proof points to justify the continued investment. Perhaps the service enablement of the existing legacy systems to provide better interfaces for trading partners or the ability to abstract processes/services into configurable domains, thus allowing processes to change without a great deal of latency and cost.

The number and types of high-value projects should be obvious. In essence, prove that the investment in SOA should increase during a downturn, considering that the ROI is very high.

Plug-and-play SOA
Bradley F. Shimmin, principal analyst, application infrastructure, Current Analysis LLC.

For more information
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To prove its worth during a downturn, SOA, which espouses modularity, will need to become modular itself. It will need to literally becoming plug-and-play at the core in the service of very specific business cases -- integration, business process management, governance, etc. I am in essence describing a series of integrated, but best-of-breed hardware appliances or pre-loaded rack-mounted 1U servers that can work independently or as a unit to achieve cost-cutting goals such as business-to-business integration (B2Bi) and enterprise application integration (EAI). And of course they must go live with little overhead, both in equipment/software and services, both in-house and professional.

SOA needed in hard times
Miko Matsumura, deputy CTO, Software AG

SOA is needed more in hard times because you want more of your IT budget to go towards high leverage projects as opposed to reinventing, re-securing, reintegrating and rebuilding the wheel for each new project. So much IT budget goes down the drain on lack of systemic global optimization that IT is dying the death of a thousand cuts. As you get more mature you have less energy, sure, but you know how to conserve and focus it better. Same goes for IT.

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