Sunday, April 19, 2009

Compared to ERP, SOA got Unlucky

Flash back to the 1990's. Organizations were spending triple-digit millions of dollars to implement ERP systems. I worked for a Big 5 consultancy at that time, and we were closing weekly $50M deals for being the system integrator on ERP implementations. Times were great! The promise of a new era was there. The cure for "IT cancer" was solved through ERP, right? Not exactly, but CIO's were spending massive amounts of dollars and willing to wait 2-3 years to see slow-moving ERP implementation projects finally hit the Production-ready datacenters. Servers were ordered in the hundreds and rolled out without a second guess. And what were the results of the ERP-era? At that time, that didn't matter too much, as everyone was convinced this was all we needed.

I certainly can't argue that ERP systems were or are a bad decision-- I think ERP is a necessary evil that most organizations need to have, simply to get the benefits of the business rules, data collection, server-based and distributed computing, and consolidation of capabilities. But, ERP certainly didn't solve the promises of being the entire IT Universe (maybe, just the Master of the Universe?). No one can argue that an IT dept only needs an ERP system, hence the need for SOA to help connect the entire IT portfolio. The challenge we face today, is the timing and new attitudes that are driving today's IT projects compared to those of the 1990's.

Flash forward to 2009. SOA projects are getting short leashes-- CIO's are asking for quick results and not willing to make large investments on SOA until they are very confident that the results will be there, quickly. If the results aren't near immediate, death to your SOA project-- SOA projects have been cancelled, and some analysts are claiming SOA is dead. So, why is this happening? Why didn't SOA get the $100M budget and the 2-3 year patience of CIO's from the last decade?

Before I hypthesize on the reasons for the IT spending shift, I did find it necessary to mention I have yet to meet a prospect or customer who diminshes the value of SOA-- there is universal agreement that it's something that could benefit business and IT alike. Whether you call it SOA, EA, EAI, business architecture, webServices, process modeling, integration, legacy modernization, cloud-- we are all talking about the same thing and very rarely am I questioned on the value. However, there is a lot of nervousness, trepidation, and lack of funding to do SOA. How can this be?

Well, timing is everything. First, the role of CIO has changed. CIO's are under extreme pressure from the CEO and CFO to ensure rapid results. If SOA had gained traction during the mid-90's, today's issues would not have been a concern and everything would be happy in SOA-land and I wouldn't be writing this blog post. However, back then, we were too busy building today's silo's to worry about connectiong them. Also, the patience and funding has changed over the past 15 years. SOA got unlucky from that perspective. Very few organizations get the "big bang" funding to roll-out enterprise SOA. Sorry SOA, times have changed. There is also a fair amount of confusion and lack of education on SOA. I meet a lot of organzations who don't understand the underlying SOA, fundamentals, principles-- they know they want to connect systems, empower their LOB's, and automate business processes, but they are still confused about SOA. Your not going to invest in something you don't understand, so that is certainly a barrier to championing an SOA project.

So, SOA evangelists, Architects, sales reps, and ISV's we all have our work cut out for us-- our customers tell us they need SOA, but they don't want to spend big dollars. My advice: keep your chin up, keep spreading the gospel on the value of service orientation, and be content on doing small SOA projects rapidly. There is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and if you can prove that SOA is legit and willing to take your initiative one bite at a time and tie ROI to each bite, there is no denying the fact that the SOA Journey will survive.


  1. I think that one of the reasons that SOA is not getting the huge budgets that have previously been spent is that senior executives see it as yet another name under which IT departments will fail to deliver.

    You cannot wonder that business is skeptical. IT's failure rate is getting worse, not better, in spite of the megabucks it has consumed. Programming standards are probably worse now then they were 30 years ago when programmers had to write efficient code due to slow processors and expensive memory.

    Analysts have got so befuddled by the process modeling myth and so obsessed with flow and as-is models that they now longer know how to model the core business activities - business functions.

    Having failed to deliver using structured methods that a beginning, a middle and an end they now claim to be sure to deliver using methods that have a beginning but now end - just iterations.

    And to define the real sharpness and clarity of the ultimate solution they call it Cloud! Now that is getting nebulous! Like juggling with steam!

    Thinking up yet another title under which to do things in and even less structured way is not going to inspire or fool anyone.

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