Remember "Internet time" when companies ranging from Microsoft to the corner copy shop were rushing to catch the Web wave? One analyst sees it coming back, except now it might be called SOA time.
"We had Internet time 10 years ago," recalls Dana Gardner, principal analyst of Interarbor Solutions LLC. "People thought: Wow, things are changing fast, but we seem to be getting back to that frenzy where if you don't move quickly you could be left out. What happened to software and the Internet 10 years ago is the harbinger of what we can expect for many more types of companies in the next 10 years."
Gardner is looking at how SOA may transform the companies where it is implemented and how it may change the relationship those companies have with their consultants ranging from small systems integrators to the big-time business management firms.
Acknowledging that he currently has more questions than answers about doing business in SOA time, he said that unlike the past the changes will not be so much in the available software as in how consultants, IT professionals and business people work with it.
"As we redefine the definition of an application," he said, "there are some people who are theorizing that all you need is a couple hundred basic services that create the underpinnings for any business application. And so once we've established a kind of baseline of what's required in a service-oriented architecture to support any number of typical or even customized business applications, what becomes necessary in differentiating is understanding the interaction between those business applications and services, and actual process innovation."
In general terms, Gardner defines this process innovation as getting the business people and processes to run more efficiently so the business, whether it is plastics or pharmaceuticals, can move to take advantage of the rapidly changing markets.
Traditional software consultants and corporate IT professionals will have a role in this, but the analyst also foresees the rise of knowledge workers so far out on the bleeding edge there isn't even a job title for them yet.
"If service-oriented architecture fulfills its vision and promise," Gardner said, "then less technical people will be able to have a hand in process management, process innovation, exception management, orchestration."
Business analyst was the term popularized in the 1990s to describe a hybrid knowledge worker who was something like half marketing manager and half 4GL programmer. Yet Gardner has his doubts about what this person will be called in the coming SOA decade.
"Business analyst might not be the right definition," Gardner said. "We're looking at a work in progress in terms of what individuals might play this role. A business analyst is certainly a place to start, but we'll probably be looking at hybrid roles where people who have strong knowledge and background in a vertical or technical area - by technical I don't mean IT, I mean other technologies such as pharmaceutical or physics or plastics engineering."
Perhaps this will be a plastics engineer who gets what SOA is all about and also understands how the supply chain works and how business partners fit into manufacturing, inventory and distribution. SOA would give them the software tools to make the most of their special knowledge of everything from formulas for plastics to new markets for products.
"That becomes an extremely important person," Gardner said. "Do we call them a business development manager, a business analyst? Are they a line of business manager? Are they sales operatives? Are they all of the above? That's something that needs to be developed and defined over the next several years."
Whatever the ultimate job title – for the time being the analyst calls it "the all-powerful productivity worker" – consultants are going to have to learn to work with them.
"It's going to be curious how an external third party professional services organization aligns with that job description," Gardner said.
Venturing a little way into forecasting the SOA future, Gardner uses the analogy of giving a guy a fish versus teaching him to fish. Basically, consultants are going to be running fishing schools.
Assuming the all-powerful productivity workers know the plastics business from molecules to marketing, the consultants might specialize in teaching them to integrate Web services so they can build there own. Gone would be the days of getting a requirements document and a Visio diagram and going off and coding an application.
The analyst's best advice to people in the consulting business, who would like to thrive in this new world, is to stay agile in keeping with the SOA philosophy, so they can find what works best for their business customers. He also suggests that it may well be that each vertical market and perhaps even every business within a vertical will have different ways of working with consultants.
Beyond that, he posits that only time - in this case SOA time - will tell.