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SOA is here to stay - IBM's LeBlanc

IBM veteran Robert LeBlanc recalls 20-years ago when the basic approach that is now called service-oriented architecture (SOA) was used to move from monolithic mainframes to a distributed environment. The services were libraries on the mainframe and the network was the Ethernet, not the Internet. What changed with the advent of SOA is that business application development is now not just about the technology. It's about the business and needs to involve business people. Anyone trying to sell SOA forgets that at their peril, argues LeBlanc. He brings together the technical and the business stakeholders, drawing on his experience as the former general manager of IBM's application and integration middleware division, in his current role as general manager of IBM Global Business Services. In part two of this conversation with at IBM's IMPACT 2008, he continues to reiterate the business focus for SOA that he offered in part one. He explains that the way around SOA roadblocks to SOA success starts with getting IT and business people to sit down at the same table.

Read part one.

Analysts we've talked to recently see SOA is hitting a roadblock where IT buys an ESB, but can't get the business people interested and end up just doing integration. Are you seeing that roadblock and do you know how to get around it?
It's the problem that you have in a lot of early SOA implementations. That's why we talk about SOA as being the technology of business. That's why I say if you're only doing the technology and not doing it for the business value, guess what? You are going to hit a dead end. That's why the business has to be involved. You have to start from what business problem you are trying to solve, not what technology you might implement. If all you do is implement technology you can't articulate to the business the value and the business is not going to be interested in funding the project. Most projects are funded by the business. The business people say: "If I'm going to spend X dollars, I'm going to expect a return of Y." If you can't articulate that you get into the dead end problem. I think in the early days you saw it. That's why we help clients everyday to understand the business value. We always talk about SOA being business and IT. Is part of the success you've had with SOA implementations due to IBM's bringing the business in on these conversions, instead of the IT shop trying to make the sell and not necessarily having the tools to talk to them?
I do believe it's a huge advantage. We go all the way from the deep technology all the way up to business transformation. So we have this unique ability to span both IT and the business. When it starts as a technology-only situation, we can bring to the client a perspective of the business value and an understanding of the industry context. We can talk to the business: "Here's what SOA could do for you as an enabler. Ignore the SOA technology. An ESB? Who cares about an ESB?" Most people who drive cars can't tell you what's under the hood. Don't worry about what's under the hood. Think about the value that it provides. So we try to bridge the gap between that technology and the business. We can do that because we've got consultants who have deep knowledge of client's industry. They understand the domain. We can go in and consult from that perspective, so we can do it from the technology, from the business and in most cases we try to bring both together. Because there's no question that when they are both together at the table the chance of success goes up by an order of magnitude. It helps to have the CEO's phone number, is that a factor?
No. At the end of the day the CEO worries about business metrics and ratios. You've got to be able to articulate the business value. And that's more at the line of business level. Somebody was saying every five years everything gets renamed in the technology world. What do you think SOA is going to get renamed as?
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[Laughs] There are some things that go beyond that five years. Database management systems, transaction management systems have been around for a long, long time. I think SOA will be around for a long time too. It's really about deployment and a set of principles, not just technology. There's nothing new in SOA. We finally got open standards and interoperability. There were a whole lot of things that happened in the industry that made SOA real, but there's not a lot of new computer science. We could build loosely coupled systems 20 years ago. We did it with the Ethernet and we had shared libraries on the mainframe that were called services. So conceptually it was almost identical to SOA. The thing the Internet added was it's no longer proprietary, and it's a business service now, not a technical service. I just look at this as an evolution, not a revolution.

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