Top Down SOA: Aligning Business Functions

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Top Down SOA: Aligning Business Functions

· Integration Zone ·
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We constantly hear about SOA and its value to the enterprise and, today, there is certainly something called SOA-hype.  Like all hype, the real value gets lost in obscurity and money is wasted chasing after the white rabbit that is still looking for that mad hatter at a tea party, scared that he is going to be late.

According to the Gartner Group, by 2008, more than 60 % of companies will use service-oriented architecture as "the guiding principle" when creating important or mission-critical applications.  The problem is that companies are using this “guiding principle” to focus on technology and not the business.  SOA is, firstly, a top level business service strategy that focuses on a decomposition of the functions of a company into a set of services that maximizes business efficiency and profitability.  Secondly, it is a syle of designing an architecture for software systems that deeply models the business such that the software breathes life into the service oriented strategy.

Service orientation starts at the brains trust of the company, not at the IT department.  The strategic thinkers focus on the “what”, “who” and “why” of the company, completely understanding the internal and external players, why they interact, what they need, what they offer, all within a co-ordinated context of services.  Once the “what”, “who” and “why” is clearly understood and mapped out, can the IT department focus on the “how”.  The IT department actually has the easier job (perhaps not!).  They need to find a technical mechanism that gives a context for execution of a service offered by a provider to a consumer.  To cut through the hype: no service oriented strategy, no service oriented architecture.

Sadly however, SOA adoption efforts are often delegated to IT departments overwhelmed with comparisons amongst vendor offerings.  SOA is not a technology, product, nor is it the famous end-to-end solution.  Neither is SOA about data and business intelligence dashboards, drill down reports and traditional feedback loops for top management.  By focusing on the “how”, your SOA strategy will stagnate in the hype and business alignment will never be achieved.

SOA is about redefining the business itself, in terms of services.  Each service has a producer and one or more consumers.  Both parties may be internal or external to the company but each time a service is used, an event flickers on the radar of the company.  Like in accounting, or chemistry, after any exchange everything must still balance.  SOA strategists focus on maintaining business equilibrium after every event.  SOA technologists focus on creating an environment for these exchanges.  Herein lies a subtle note of caution.  Without deep insight and complete immersion into the domain of services of the business, the IT department will fail because it will never be in absolute alignment with business strategy.

So if the mad hatter in your IT department is already planning a tea party, you better get there before the white rabbit does.  You need to make sure that the mad hatter really knows who’s coming, why they’re coming and what to serve.  What is really important is that you and the mad hatter both understand that every guest is important, that every service offered to the guests is important, everything is easy to find, easy to use, works perfectly and that guests don’t get iced tea when they asked for an Earl Grey.  And when the white rabbit eventually arrives, ask him if he’s seen your company SOS (service oriented architecture).  If his SOA is not aligned with your SOS, the the party’s over.

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