Forrester: Digital Business Architecture emerges from SOA

Software architects and business managers become conjoined twins in Forrester analyst's vision of where SOA and interoperability standards are leading software development.

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First of all, architects and developers need to stop waiting for the next big vendor release of SOA tools, Forrester Research Inc. vice president Randy Heffner told attendees in the closing keynote at the OASIS Symposium in San Francisco this past week.

Echoing what other analyst firms, most notably ZapThink LLC, say about SOA, Heffner made it clear once again that it is not about tools, no matter what the marketers for the vendors of tools may say. The last word in SOA is architecture.

In this new world, it's not design the business and then design the technology, you're creating one thing, which is your business as embodied in your technology base.
Randy Heffner
vice presidentForrester Research Inc.

Heffner outlined Forrester's view that "SOA is not enough" and must be extended into what he terms Digital Business Architecture, which is the convergence of IT and business into a single entity. Gone are the days when a business analyst writes up a requirements document and programmers go off into their bunkers to see what they can make of it, he said.

In calling for unification of business and IT Heffner was reinforcing what became the theme of many speakers and panelists at the OASIS event: SOA will only advance if IT and business people can communicate and work together and is unlikely to work in the traditional models where software development and business plans are seen as separate functions created by separate entities.

Heffner shared some results of Forrester research that shows healthy adoption and growth potential for SOA. The analyst firm's recent survey of industry found that 53 % of enterprises are either doing SOA or will be by the end of this calendar year, he said. The adoption is even higher in big organizations with 40,000 or more employees, where the Forrester survey finds 67% doing or planning to do SOA by the end of 2006, he said. The trend toward doing more SOA was high with almost 70% of the businesses planning to do more SOA and only 1% saying they would do less, he said.

"So they are very happy with what they are doing with SOA," Heffner said. "But I'm going to push it one further and this is where the important point comes as you start to look at the future and see what's necessary and why isn't SOA enough."

To begin with, he said, too much of what is called SOA is still just internal and external integration projects and that misses the big picture of what architecture can do for business. But the survey result that Heffner focused on was that of the businesses surveyed, he said "nearly half say they are using SOA for strategic business transformation."

This is where Digital Business Architecture comes into the picture to extend SOA, he said.

"As we've been looking at this issue at Forrester, technology in business and the embodiment of business in technology, we can now paint a picture of what we believe is a very good operating model, a very good structural model of how to think about IT going forward," Heffner told the OASIS gathering. "In this new world, it's not design the business and then design the technology, you're creating one thing, which is your business as embodied in your technology base. We call this digital business architecture."

Heffner said this new paradigm requires "mental model shifts." These shifts in thinking about business and IT begin with moving away from the practice of writing the business plan and then designing systems to support it. In his keynote for OASIS, the analyst said thinking must shift to "concurrently design your business and the systems that embody it."

He pointed out that this is already happening in organizations such as eBay, Amazon and Google where the Web-based applications essentially are the business. Under the old model, a toothpaste manufacturer might exist with limited IT support, but without IT a company like Google wouldn't exist at all.

In the Forrester vision of Digital Business Architecture, the old way of writing applications to support "dedicated business functions" is replaced by creating "digital business capabilities" that make it possible for the business to deliver services, as Google does, in "a digital business world."

As Heffner outlined the way software architects and business managers need to work together, much of the shift involves moving from taking a case-by-case approach to business applications to looking at the big picture of how software makes the business run. He said this is especially true in terms of metadata and standards for metadata, which is a primary focus of OASIS.

"More and more of the business is being defined in metadata," he said. "Right now it might be just a small core, but we think that continues to grow."

The current approach to metadata is still stuck in case-by-case mode, which Heffner characterizes as: "I'm just defining a business process here for this thing or I'm just defining this policy over here."

For more information

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OASIS panel ponders: What is SOA?

To make the mind shift to thinking in terms of Digital Business Architecture, the analyst said that point of view of metadata must change.

"What we want you to think about is that what you are actually doing is creating a digital model of your business that will be embodied in your technology," Heffner said. "That forces you to think about this as a whole integrated model for my business."

The integrated model would cover the entire business organization and operation including how the business is run, how its business processes are monitored, how its success is measured, he said.

"My organizational structure is mapped to the processes that I'm doing," Heffner said. "This becomes a core of your business and maybe of your IT in the future."

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