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Architecture 101: Why SOA needs an enterprise focus

Enterprise architecture experts at the Open Group Conference lamented that much of the work being done in SOA has been too project specific and unable to yield larger business benefits.

Chicago – Reinforcing the growing sentiment that users attempting to build a service-oriented architecture (SOA) have been too technology and integration focused, presenters at this week's Open Group Conference bemoaned a gap between enterprise architects and SOA practitioners.

I am still seeing SOA silos growing up inside of organizations.
George S. Paras
managing directorEAdirections LLC.

"Far too often there's a disconnect between the big picture of the enterprise architecture folks and the implementation-specific focus of the SOA teams," said George S. Paras, managing director of EAdirections LLC.

He urged architects attending the event to recognize that "SOA is not just another technology," and cast a dire warning that SOA in practice is doing one of the least service-oriented things it could possibly do: "I am still seeing SOA silos growing up inside of organizations."

Tony Baer, SOA analyst at Ovum, argued against relegating SOA to the gear level.

"With service-oriented architecture you've got to have more of business-level focus," he said.

Paras stressed that SOA, ideally, should have a top-down focus.

"We want to conduct service-oriented analysis from an enterprise perspective to drive service-oriented design from a project perspective," he said. He added that SOA governance is only achieving gains at the project level, not from the perspective of "enterprise architecture strategic business alignment."

Part of the problem, according to Paras, is that enterprise architects aren't making sure the models they build are being used in a dynamic fashion, allowing implementers to lapse into silo-centric bad habits.

Strategic SOA vs. tactical SOA
Paras produced a quadrant chart outlining the activities that define lower level, project specific architecture initiatives and those that embrace the higher levels of enterprise architecture. He noted that users will do a combination of both, but that they should strive for higher level functions.

Process-driven, strategic activities:

  • Governance
  • Strategy planning
  • Portfolio management

Deliverables-driven, tactical activities:

  • Architecture
  • Standards
  • SOA implementations
  • Project designs

"Strategy should be an ongoing process of the business, looking at where we are and what we want to be when we grow up," Paras said.

Data-driven architecture
Much of the focus of the conference centered around data/object libraries and handling information in a much cleaner, more consistent fashion.

Ross Button, vice president for technology leadership for CGI Group Inc. in Canada, made the case that companies are currently in a paradigm shift when it comes to information. The future focus, he argued, will be on using data and turning it into an active business component. This is in stark contrast to what he portrayed as the traditional focus on enterprise computing.

"We build computer systems whose primary purpose has been to get customers to put information into the database," he said. "It's been a one-way street."

And the boundaries of what we consider applications and data flow are going to be radically realigned by the emergence of SOA and Software as a Service, according to Michael Rollings, senior analyst in the Executive Advisory Program at Burton Group Inc.

"Applications are going to become virtual sets of policy-governed services" he said.

For more information
Sarbox pushes engineering firm into SOA

SOA governance: We have a problem

The implication for users is that the process-driven architecture functions Paras listed – governance, strategy planning and portfolio management – need to be applied to what could otherwise become a chaotic enterprise data situation.

"Information architecture is probably one of the least understood, but most important piece of doing enterprise architecture," he said. He added that if an enterprise architect can only get one thing right, make it how the organization handles its information flow.

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