This is my first experience with a really big IBM event, and boy is it big! Some 6.000 people buzzing about like busy ants getting to and from sessions, of which there are an overwhelming number.
The opening session was a hilarious show, mixing professional presentations with the wits of Drew Carey. He had gathered a bunch of comedians doing improvisations prompted by input from the audience. The most impressing of these was when one of the guys cracked a title of a song on a given theme (“veterinarian songs”, no less). Then two other guys proceeded to sing while allegedly composing the lyrics as they went along. Titles included the challenging “Put your hand in your dog and cough”…
Well, enough of these ramblings, what I wanted to focus on today is a session with a customer panel telling about how they got their respective SOA initiatives of the ground. I must say I did not have high expectations for this session, but the guys in the panel turned out to drop quite a few gems.
What was shining through was the fact that the challanges of SOA rarely, if ever, are technical. Instead, it’s all about organization and perception. One of the panel members stressed the fact that one of his most efficient tools to gain acceptance for SOA was inclusion, because, as he put it, “everyone wants governance, but no one wants to be goverened”. This is just a variation on the age-old not-invented-here-syndrome, but it seems to me that in this we find one of the most basic reasons for resistance to SOA. So, what to do? Well, his recommendation was to create some kind of virtual organisation, maybe an SOA reference board, have both integration specialist and application owners and developers meeting regularly to discuss all matters concerning shared services and integration. Also, he suggested, let the chair of this body circulate among its members to strengthen a sense of common ownership. In this context the same guy also quoted a simple but potetially powerful principle that could foster this sense: “Only build services that you don’t consume, only consume services that you don’t build”. I realize that this contains all sorts of political and other pitfalls, but as a general idea, it strikes me as brilliant. It highlights the essentially collaborative nature of SOA, and, if promoted, would serve as an antidote to silos and fiefdoms.
The proverbial Low Hanging Fruits were also addressed, and a recommendation that I have seen elsewhere was put forward by the panel. In the best of worlds, the SOA initiative is actively sponsored by top management, but when this is not the case, actors on lower rungs can still create success stories around SOA by applying SOA principles to infrastructure issues like security and compliance. Armed with those success stories, SOA champions can use them to prove the real value of SOA. And, one member stressed, never ever sell SOA as such to non-IT folks. Always focus on solutions to business problems and promote SOA as an enabler.
In my opinion, wise counsel was given, and also encouragement. This was three real companies realizing real SOA benefits. To be sure, they had a long way left to go. When asked what percentage of their total application functionality was delivered through shared services, answers ranged from 10 to about 50 percent, and, as one member put it, we may never get to a 100 percent. But they all agreed that the journey is worthwhile and maybe even unavoidable.