SOA4SOA is the solution
Only extraterrestrials just arrived from outer space can have missed the fact that we are in a global economic recession right now. Maybe it will blow over soon, but many expect worse conditions ahead. Organizations prepare for a period with very little room to maneuver. Revenue is drying up and the only way to make a profit is to cut cost and wait for better times. Projects are stopped as it is recognized their business cases are no longer valid. This includes many SOA initiatives, even when based on solid business cases at the time. Only projects that directly reduce cost in a very short term are started or kept alive.
A question that is often asked these days is: “does this mean that SOA as an architectural style should be halted?” The answer is a firm NO as will be discussed below. The current recession offers opportunities to improve the conditions for the successful application of SOA. The answer is targeted rationalization of the IT landscape, in order to ultimately get the right set of business services: Sanitation and Optimization under Architecture as a precondition for Service-Oriented Architecture. Or simply put: SOA4SOA.
During times of recession other criteria are used to determine which initiatives to launch than in times of an economic boom. During a recession the most attractive initiatives are those that promise short term cost reduction. In boom times there is a strong preference for revenue increasing initiatives. The main driver for Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA1) is increasing agility, requiring investment in the development of a business service portfolio and associated infrastructure. Typically the benefits of SOA will only surface after a couple of years (reuse through time). Investment in SOA requires a long term perspective. A perspective the CIO cannot afford during a recession. Still we persist in our vision that SOA as an architectural style is the way to go. So what should the CIO do now? Go against the flow and continue investing in SOA? Or reduce SOA investments and surrender to the pressure of the organization to reduce cost.
Let us first investigate what the challenges for the application of SOA are in a booming economy. There are advantages and disadvantages. Subsequently we will look into the challenges for SOA during a recession. We conclude by distilling our concise advice.
1) In this article the acronym SOA is used for Service-Oriented Architecture, except where explicitly indicated otherwise.
The application of the SOA paradigm during an economic boom has the following advantages:
Application of SOA during boom times also has disadvantages:
The conclusion is that even during a booming economy there are a lot of challenges in the application of the SOA paradigm. Let’s see how this looks during a recession.
Surprisingly the application of the SOA paradigm during a recession has a number of advantages:
For the application of SOA during a recession there is obviously also a big disadvantage:
2)Speech by the Dutch minister of social and employment affairs J.P.H. Donner at the yearly conference of the FME-CWM in Nijkerk on November 12, 2008: “Your chairman points to the tension that exists between the need to save skilled personnel wherever possible for your organizations in order to be able to react quickly when demand improves again and the substantial need to cut cost during the current rapid drop in demand”.
An economic recession is really a blessing in disguise for architecture, governance, rationalization of legacy systems and - indirectly - SOA (by improvement of SOA conditions). In good economic times many initiatives are launched with little attention for structure, coherence, governance and the removal of obsolete IT components. In bad economic times more time is spent thinking before money is spent. There is more interest in saving money by removing obsolete IT components. Especially the clean up creates the conditions for successful application of SOA. Some years ago already Sanitation and Optimizing under Architecture was advocated [Bakker, van den Berg, Deursen, 2003]. The reduction of complexity and cost are the main drivers for the rationalization of the IT landscape. An attractive side effect is that is improves the conditions for SOA. Less overlapping functionality, less applications, less different information definitions and fewer databases not only mean a substantial reduction in maintenance and administration cost. But also make it easier to extend the business service portfolio in the future. Fewer systems means a reduced integration effort. Also a Canonical Data Model may be introduced during rationalization. It provides insight into which information definitions and databases can be removed. This model is also an essential element of SOA as it ensures consistent semantics across services.
When creating business cases we advocate to explicitly investigate the extent they contribute to improving the conditions for SOA. When there are multiple business cases for cutting cost those contributing most to SOA must be selected first. When for example there are two business cases for cost reduction and one concerns rationalization of management information systems and the other the rationalization of the customer information systems it is clear the customer information system case should get preference. Customer information systems generally form a crucial core for many SOA initiatives that will be launched as soon as the economy booms again. As a general architecture principle the improvement of the quality of ‘up stream’ processes and information is more important than the improvement of ‘down stream’ processes and information. Even without SOA this is the preferred approach because ‘down stream’ processes and information depend on the ‘upstream’ quality (garbage in, garbage out).
The diagram below shows where the focus should be during a booming economy and where it should be in times of recession:
It is clear that we are in a recession. So let’s start improving architecture and governance and looking for business cases to rationalize parts of the IT landscape. For example the rationalization of backend systems that play a large role in developing business services in future SOA scenarios. Start with those systems containing the core information of the organization like customers, products and contracts. Sanitation and Optimization under Architecture as preparation for Service Oriented Architecture. SOA4SOA!
Piet Jan Baarda ( Pietjan.firstname.lastname@example.org) is Senior Information Architect at Sogeti.
Martin van den Berg is Service Line Manager Architecture at Sogeti, IT-teacher at ProEducation and chairman of the architecture section of the NGI (Dutch Computer Society).
[Baarda, 2008] Your SOA needs a business case, 2008
[van den Berg, Hompes, Truijens, 2007] SOA in Nederland, een digitale aandoening?3, Contribution to LAC 2007 year book
[vanden Berg, Bieberstein, Ommeren, 2007] SOA for Profit, 2007
[Bakker, van den Berg, Deursen, 2003] Slopen onder Architectuur, Het systematisch op orde houden van de ICT-assetporftolio4, Contribution to LAC2003
3) in English: SOA in The Netherlands, a digital affection?
4) in English: Demolition under Architecture, Keeping the IT-asset portfolio clean in a systematic way. (or to arrive at the SOA acronym: Sanitation and Optimization under Architecture)