Bury SOA inside a larger architectural vision

The call to action is to do SOA with a business focus and to bury SOA inside a larger architectural vision.

Despite recent industry discussions exclaiming "SOA is dead!", Forrester data shows that by the end of 2009, SOA

penetration will reach 75% of the global 2000 firms. Among all current SOA users, 60% are expanding their SOA usage and nearly 40% say SOA helps them with strategic business transformation. Done right, SOA is an important and valuable initiative for organizations to pursue.

Why, then, do some struggle to achieve SOA's benefits? Much of the industry hype misguides people into treating SOA as technology and as a solution unto itself rather than treating SOA as a business design approach to software. For example, some pursue an unplanned library of services rather than a (mostly) planned and coherent portfolio of business capabilities. So, recent concerns about SOA are not surprising, they merely indicate the need for a business-oriented focus to SOA — and beyond, just as Forrester said in 2005 when we first published our vision for Digital Business Architecture .

SOA is an important business foundation, but you're doing much more than SOA including BPM, social networking, Web 2.0, mobile applications, RFID, virtualization, cloud computing, event processing, analytics, information fabrics, smart forms, and much more. How can we organize all this into an architecture that fosters the same business focus we need for SOA? This is what Forrester's Digital Business Architecture is all about. It starts with the design of the business itself — captured in an evolving Business Metadata Core — which puts the proper perspective on four major domains of technology.

Thus, the call to action is to do SOA with a business focus and to bury SOA inside a larger architectural vision. Whether you use Forrester's Digital Business Architecture as your foundation or something else, to build and execute on a larger vision you should:

1. Ensure a business design foundation. At the center of your larger vision, your strategy should capture the design of your business in business process specifications, in business transactions implemented as SOA-based business services, in business event management, and in many other ways.

2. Build incrementally toward the vision. Your strategy should assume that, starting now, your business technology solutions will build incrementally toward a coherent business design. Think of each new project as though it is building individual puzzle pieces and adding them to an emerging picture of your digital business.

3. Think structure-first, not product-first. Your vision will necessarily require new infrastructure technology products (e.g., BPM, SOA repository, and many others), but before purchasing anything, you should develop a conceptual framework, such as Forrester's taxonomy of platforms for digital business, that allows each new product to be envisioned, planned, selected, and implemented in a way that builds toward a broader digital business platform.

4. Build around portfolios, not projects. Use portfolio management to align your series of piece-by-piece puzzle building projects. Solution roadmaps form the high-level picture of the whole puzzle. Business service portfolio management guides the evolution of your SOA-based digital business capabilities.

5. Govern projects to ensure general movement toward the vision. Along the way, pragmatic business considerations will require divergence and compromise — you won't build in a straight line toward the vision. Nonetheless, project-level governance is the key street-level mechanism to ensure that, in general terms, projects are making incremental progress toward the vision.

These recommendations provide a broad framework of the most important guidance for your broader vision. Each organization will apply them differently based on their current organizational, IT, and architectural maturity, discipline, and governance practices. To lead your organization into the future, you must understand both the target vision and the broad parameters of the journey.

Resources
Forrester clients can see the November 7, 2005, "Digital Business Architecture: IT Foundation For Business Flexibility" Forrester report.
Forrester clients can see the July 3, 2007, "A Taxonomy Of Platforms For Your Digital Business" Forrester report.

About the author
Randy Heffner is a Vice President at Forrester Research, serving Enterprise Architecture professionals. He is a leading expert on architectures and design approaches for building enterprise applications that are secure and resilient in the face of continuous business and technology change.

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