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The SOA talent squeeze

ZapThink predicts a dramatic surge in the demand for SOA consulting in 2005.

Guest Commentary
The SOA talent squeeze
by Jason Bloomberg, Senior Analyst, ZapThink, LLC

As 2004 winds down, the service orientation (SO) winds are shifting. SO software and hardware vendors' markets are consolidating, as surviving players mature their products and build traction among customers who increasingly understand the value of service-oriented architecture (SOA) to their organizations. While IT end-users focused their attention on Web services and SOA products and the vendors who offered them up to this point in time, their attention is now moving to professional services organizations (PSOs) as these consulting firms ramp up their SOA practices. This shift in activity marks an important step in the maturation of SO adoption within enterprises: ZapThink has seen that while most of the Fortune 500 was dabbling with SOA in 2004, 2005 is the year that many will ramp up their SOA initiatives, in many cases to cross-departmental and cross-organizational projects, and in some instances to enterprise-wide implementations. Even enterprises with large IT shops realize that they cannot scale a new architectural approach without skilled outside help -- and thus, 2005 will be the year of the SOA consultant.

ZapThink, therefore, predicts a dramatic surge in the demand for SOA consulting in 2005, which heralds a challenging time for the PSO business reminiscent of the late 1990s. In a fundamental way, SOA consulting offers much of what '90s eBusiness consulting promised, but never delivered. The obvious question, then, is whether we can avoid the same flameout that marked the end of the last technology buildout. There are clearly some basic differences this time around -- no stock market bubble, no Y2K, no "new economy" -- but two aspects of the SO buildout echo the 1990s: first, an evolution in technology heralds broad business transformation, and second, we'll need more consultants than are available to make it happen.

What is an SOA consultant?
SOA consultants can offer a range of different core competencies. ZapThink believes that the most critical SOA consultant is the SO architect, whose expertise is much like that of the enterprise architect ZapThink discussed in an earlier ZapFlash. While SOA architect consultants have somewhat different responsibilities from their end-user peers, these consultants must have the same broad understanding of both business requirements and technology implementation. Depending on the focus of the practice they belong to, they may require deep vertical industry knowledge. But in all instances, SO architects must have significant understanding of how to meet continually changing business requirements through business processes consisting of composable, loosely-coupled services.

While SO architects help companies implement SOA to meet current and evolving business needs, business transformation consultants are also essential. Companies are now realizing that implementing SOA means far more than a simple reorganization of application resources. After all, SOA is not simply about taking existing systems, wrapping them in standards-based interfaces, and connecting them together in the sort of tightly-coupled, inflexible manner that some EAI vendors still espouse. The broad, business-based movement to SO, more so than the technical implementation of SOA, should lead to the ability for companies to undertake broad reorganizations of their business based upon how they leverage IT assets across the enterprise. As a result, business transformation consultants versed in helping their clients handle the broad human change issues necessary to transform their business are every bit as essential to enterprise SOA deployments as architects are.

SO business transformation: The new management consulting
Management consultants who offer business transformation consulting must add a new set of skills to their existing set of capabilities in order to fully leverage the changes that SO can bring to their clients. From the perspective of the business, SO provides a new immediacy between IT capabilities and the needs of the organization. For example, for companies striving to build the infrastructure necessary to meet the demands of regulations such as Sarbanes Oxley, the PATRIOT Act, or Basel II, management consultants must understand the Services their clients require in order to provide the visibility and control that company executives need to comply with such regulations. Management consultants can no longer base their work entirely on management formulas learned in business school. Instead, SOA brings IT into the management consultant's toolbox in a way that it never has been before.

The paragraph above may give you a case of deja vu, since a closer relationship between business and IT consulting was also what eBusiness consulting promised back in the 1990's. During those heady days, eBusiness consulting firms (aka "I-Builders") like marchFIRST, Scient, and iXL espoused a new era of business marked by the incorporation of the Internet into every facet of the workings of companies. They attempted to combine business strategy and technology (as well as creative) in what turned out to be a spectacular act of hubris, as these firms became the most dramatic flameouts of the dot.com crash.

Deja vu all over again?
As with the I-Builders, it is the pending shortage of SOA consultants that puts the SO buildout most at risk. After all, where will all these new consultants come from -- both the architects as well as the business transformation specialists? Companies aren't simply looking for bodies that they can train -- firms require real-world expertise in how to build SOA to meet continuously changing business requirements. Rather than looking to develop the necessary skills from scratch in their existing IT talent pool, enterprises should seek the help of PSOs that have been building SO talent over the past few years. Most large PSOs are currently building their SOA practices, which in large part means training consultants on SOA. Some of the early entrants in to this market have already had SOA consultants on the ground for a good year now, and these firms are sitting pretty as they enter 2005.

In addition to the big consulting firms, there are also a raft of smaller players who are focusing their efforts on SOA. Many of these firms have already had an architectural focus, and as such, adding SOA capabilities isn't much of a stretch for them. For small and mid-sized consulting firms with a business-only focus, however, SO remains mostly an alien concept. These firms may understand in general how IT impacts business, but they have no concept of how SO will significantly alter the business landscape. As a result, large IT consulting firms that also offer management consulting may erode the business of the smaller business consulting firms, and as such, are in the best position to offer the type of business transformation capabilities that the transition to SO will require.

The ZapThink take
Even though consulting firms large and small are building SOA teams, the number of consultants they are training or putting into early SOA engagements is far less than the number that enterprises will require in the coming year to two years. There will be movement between small and large firms, as well as recruiting from industry, but there will also be a trend among consultants to leave their firms and work directly for enterprises. As a result, there will be a talent squeeze that will drive up the rates of the more experienced consultants, and drive down the quality of the average consultant, as large numbers of inexperienced and poorly trained consultants chase the rapidly growing, newly available opportunities. Just as with the dot.com buildout, the shortage of consultants may seriously impact companies' ability to execute the business transformation they require, and may degrade the overall quality of SOA implementations.

Therefore, if you're a software architect or an IT-savvy business consultant, you have the potential to be in the catbird seat, and now is the time to get practical experience with SOA. Without it, you risk replacement by more savvy and knowledgeable counterparts. With SO skills, however, you can potentially capture a rapidly growing opportunity within end-user and PSO architecture groups. PSOs that want to offer SOA to their clients should already have their SOA practice in development, and should already be training their staff, otherwise, they risk rapidly becoming overtaken by the new class of SO-savvy PSO firm. Enterprises that have SOA-savvy personnel should nurture, grow, and encourage them, because the lucrative offers for their talent will be coming soon. Whatever you do, don't be caught by the SOA talent squeeze coming in 2005.


Copyright 2004. Originally published by ZapThink LLC, reprinted with permission. ZapThink LLC provides quality, high-value, focused research, analysis, and insight on emerging technologies that will have a high impact on the way business will be run in the future. To register for a free e-mail subscription to ZapFlash, click here.


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