The wreaths are down, the days are getting longer, and snow is on the ground, so it must be time for ZapThink's annual retrospective and forecast for the world of service-oriented architecture (SOA). This time, however, 2008 is a leap year, which means we're heading into the US election season and looking forward to the Olympics. We're also dealing with an uncertain economic outlook that may very well impact the enterprises that are relying upon SOA to enable their information technology (IT) shops to provide increasingly agile solutions to the business. As we look back to last year's predictions, as well as looking forward to new ones for the coming year, we'll take into account the changing business landscape as it provides a new perspective on business across the globe.
Review of 2007 forecast
Our first prognostication from one year ago centered on the SOA quality and testing market. We predicted that as a result of a heightened awareness of the real challenges in maintaining a SOA implementation, demand for SOA quality and testing solutions would skyrocket in 2007, leading to greater acquisitions, increased consolidation, new venture creation, and boatloads of case studies on the topic. In retrospect, our guess was on the right track, but today we'd expect the full force of the prediction to take a few more years. True, the demand for SOA quality and testing solutions did increase substantially in 2007, leading to several case studies, but we've yet to see acquisitions or other signs of consolidation in this space -- yet.
Our second gaze into the SOA crystal ball presaged a shortage of qualified, experienced Enterprise Architects (EAs), leading to "paper architects" who put desirable skills on their resume without the experience to back those resumes up. We also predicted a rise in EA/SOA training options, including a shameless plug for our newly launched Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) training and credentialing program. On this prediction we hit the bull's-eye. Not only has the dearth of qualified EAs impacted SOA initiatives across the globe, but many SOA initiatives have foundered primarily because the SOA team gets into a room and all you hear is "hey, I thought you knew how to do this SOA stuff!" And furthermore, our commercial for the LZA program worked as well, as we've had hundreds of architects go through the program in 2007 and obtain their credential, and we expect hundreds more in 2008.
The third prediction in last year's ZapFlash was that the commercial SOA platform/SOA suite would collapse under its own weight, giving rise to increased adoption of open source SOA infrastructure. The argument we provided was that these SOA solutions had grown from individual, point-products that solved discrete SOA problems into gigantic SOA suites that seemed to be every bit the monolithic platform that they had been intended to replace. We pointed out that monolithic SOA platforms, in which you have to buy all the various parts of the solution in order to get the true value as promised by the vendor, is at its core an un-SOA philosophy.
In retrospect, this prediction has been true for some vendors, while others have gotten their act together at least to some extent and are offering a more loosely coupled set of SOA infrastructure capabilities to the market. In fact, this "SOA platform pitfall" has tended to bifurcate the SOA infrastructure marketplace, with one group of large vendors providing solutions that organizations are successfully leveraging in their SOA initiatives, with the other, thankfully smaller collection of vendors still offering "lipstick on the pig" middleware that now supports Web services, but is still just the same old middleware under the covers. We have a policy of not naming names in ZapFlashes, but you vendors know who you are! And while open source SOA infrastructure continues to make inroads in many enterprises, we're generally seeing a reluctance on the part of EAs to recommend an all open source approach, instead favoring one of the larger vendors' suites, especially if they alr! eady have an established relationship with that vendor.
ZapThink's predictions for 2008
As we suggested in the introduction, our first prediction for 2008 takes into account the current economic slowdown. Now, we're not about to predict the depth or length of such a downturn, but we can hazard to foresee how macroeconomic forces might impact SOA initiatives in enterprises in the US and abroad. It would be easy to simply say that tightening IT pursestrings will lead to cancellations or at least postponements of SOA initiatives, but we don't see that happening as a universal pattern. Instead, we see a slowdown separating enterprises into two groups: organizations who have turned the corner with their SOA initiatives and are seeing (or are about to see) real benefits from the new architectural approach, versus those companies who are still struggling with their SOA projects.
Because SOA done right helps organizations compete in periods of change, SOA is of particular importance in times of economic flux. After all, agility means dealing with such changes, so if there's any time to have SOA in place, it's now. Unfortunately, however, many organizations are still struggling with the business case for SOA, or even worse, have made a wrong turn or reached some kind of impasse with their SOA initiatives. For those organizations, we do predict cancellations of SOA projects and deferments of SOA spending, to their detriment. Because after all, their competition might very well be leveraging SOA to be more successful during a downturn, leaving the unsuccessful companies out in the cold.
The second 2008 ZapThink prognostication looks at enterprise mashups and their relationship with SOA. Our definition of an enterprise mashup is a governed, managed composition of loosely coupled services within the context of a rich, collaborative, Internet-based environment. In other words, enterprise mashups are what organizations actually do with SOA. Our prediction, then, is that the world of enterprise mashups will come into its own in 2008, and become what many people are calling the "killer use-case" for SOA. In fact, as we predicted a few years ago, SOA will fade from view as an increasing number of organizations focus on enterprise mashups as the mechanism for business empowerment in the enterprise.
Finally, our third prediction for 2008 actually includes a prediction for ZapThink itself. We're seeing a scramble at the larger consulting organizations for SOA capabilities, for two main reasons. First, SOA projects are a huge growth area for these firms, and people who really know how to execute on a SOA initiative are in short supply. But more importantly, these professional services organizations continue to struggle with increasing their margins, as the full impact of offshoring works its way through their industry. The large Indian consulting firms, for example, have achieved stellar growth based upon their ability to offer low-cost solutions, but with low costs come low margins. Now that these firms are competing globally, they are all being pressed to offer higher-margin capabilities that position them as global players.
SOA expertise is essential to these organizations, as well as their US and European competitors, not because they need to fill the ranks with mid-level architects and implementers (which they do), but more so because they need to establish SOA leadership in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. So, our prediction for 2008 is that one of these firms will acquire ZapThink, as well as other SOA thought leadership firms, because we can establish the winning acquirer as a global SOA leader -- and with that leadership comes higher margins for their SOA solutions team as a whole. Furthermore, because there are only a few firms like ours out there, we predict a scramble for the top SOA thought leadership, once the hunt is on. At least, that's what we hope!
The ZapThink take
The key takeaway from this ZapFlash is that we predict 2008 to be a "get business done" year for SOA. We're now past the hype days, and now it's time to achieve real business goals. For enterprises, achieving true success with SOA initiatives will enable those firms that get it right to rise above their competition. For vendors, the ones that have true SOA offerings will succeed, and the pretenders will eventually pack up their toys and find something else to sell. For consultants, SOA will become more than an entry point for implementation work, but will segue into high value, high margin management consulting, as their clients leverage EA best practices to achieve business goals across the board.
And as for ZapThink? Regardless of whether we're acquired or not, or by whom, we expect to continue to provide our audience of architects and other SOA aficionados with the same insight and value we've been providing up to this point. After all, our value is in our brand and what it means to the global audience of EAs who've been following us for the last eight years. So regardless of what 2008 has in store, SOA, and ZapThink, are here to stay.