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SOA success lessons: Focus on business goals

SOA success is achieved by focusing on business goals rather than just technology and software products, a new Burton study indicates.

Service-oriented architecture (SOA) projects often fail because the project leaders focus too much on the technology and fail to focus enough on the business goals, says Chris Haddad, vice president of application platform strategies and data management strategies at Burton Group Inc.

Very few organizations created a real world business case.
Chris Haddad
VP of application platform strategies and data management strategiesBurton Group

Failed SOA projects get too focused on the means rather than the end, he explained during an online seminar Tuesday titled "In Search Of SOA Success." The failure to focus on business goals is a problem and focusing on them is the solution, Haddad said in outlining the results of in-depth interviews Burton analysts conducted with more than 21 companies working on SOA projects. The lessons learned from these interviews are being incorporated into a major revision of the SOA planning documents Burton supplies to clients, he said.

Summarizing his 45-minute presentation, he argued that SOA architects, developers and project leaders need to get beyond the focus on technology and products and start viewing SOA from the perspective of business goals. That is what the successful implementations of SOA appear to have in common.

"People are focused on the technical infrastructure," Haddad said. "They are focusing on the means we use to create services, assuring that they are highly available, reliable and secure. They aren't focused on the goals."

There is sometimes a failure to ask the most basic questions in building the business case for SOA, the Burton analyst suggested.

Why should we be building services? What does it mean at the end of the day?

"Very few organizations created a real world business case," Haddad said in explaining the problems with the technology and product centric approach to SOA. "That means that while we can put a lot of acronyms on our resume and list a lot of products that we've become familiar with, we aren't able to gain adoption of the concept, of the mindset, within all the teams that we desire to work with."

The organizations having success with SOA approach it as much from a sociological perspective as from a technical one, the analyst said, reiterating the view that the change in business application architecture also means a change in the way people handle business processes.

"We do need to focus more on advocacy, sponsorship, evangelism, understanding goals and drivers," he told his listeners.

While one of the business drivers for SOA is reducing costs and achieving return on investment (ROI), Haddad said ROI for SOA remains an elusive goal and SOA project leaders frequently take a leap of faith where ROI is concerned.

"They are usually following the leap of faith approach," he said. "There are companies that are monitoring return on investment, both from a technical implementation perspective and more importantly from a business perspective."

While failed SOA projects may begin with grandiose business plans that are never realized, Haddad pointed out that ROI sometimes comes from simple changes in business processes.

For more information
Burton offers strategy for SOA in hard times

Analysts, users find roadblocks along the SOA highway

Burton is not identifying the companies it interviewed for its in-depth SOA study, but Haddad pointed to a telecommunication company that achieved ROI with a rather simple consolidation of its billing system.

"They reduced the number of bills that they sent out to clients," he recalled. "They had five or six representations of a bill that was sent out. Then there were five or six different instances that had to be updated every year. What they realized was the variation in the bill presented to the customer was not providing a competitive advantage for any particular department. One department wasn't getting paid any faster than another. There were economies of scale that could be realized if the five departments sent out a bill in a single, standardized format. So there you see ROI from a business perspective."

Haddad said more detailed data and analysis from the "In Search of SOA Success" study will be presented by Anne Thomas Manes, Burton's research director, at the analyst firm's Catalyst Conference in San Diego later this month.

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