What's the value of SOA?
Is it the return on investment? Let's hope it doesn't boil down to just ROI, because, boy, are technology folks struggling with that one, especially after last month's unveiling of the Nucleus survey on SOA and ROI.
Sometimes, I think IT can't find the ROI because IT focuses too much on its own metrics, which the business could care less about, and misses metrics that would make business managers salivate. That's one reason to at least try to talk to the business about the technology itself -- you never know what they'll see that you missed.
In fact, I suspect even when IT tries its gosh-darnedest to identify business metrics, there's a good chance you'll miss something because, frankly, you don't know what to look for. It takes the business users, who spend their days knee-deep in the day-to-day tasks of the company, to really see how a technology will add value.
Don't believe me? I introduce in evidence the fact business users are always sneaking in technology that IT says "they don't need." Technologies that have since proven their business value time and again, including Salesforce.com, laptops and PDAs.
My second piece of evidence is that this overlooking of key business metrics is exactly what first happened when IBM rolled out its SOA initiative, as Sandy Carter, IBM vice president of SOA and WebSphere Strategy, Channels and Marketing, related when we interviewed her in April. Carter said knowing what metrics to use is a critical success factor for SOA:
Even at IBM, when we started our engagements, we were looking first at more IT-focused metrics versus business-focused metrics. IBM did factory in a box. And we were looking at, "Wow, look at that transaction time," versus how we could now get a supplier up and going, not in three weeks, but in an hour. That made the business go, "Wow, I understand now and I want that," versus, "Transaction time is up 100 percent." So I think it's really about what is the business objective and being able to articulate your metrics and your measurements back to the business.
Hey, if it can happen at IBM, it can happen in your IT shop.
True, other payoffs are just plain hard to measure and perhaps even impossible to definitively calculate. But that doesn't mean the project isn't worthwhile.
If you're still skeptical about SOA's value, check out a recent column by Carter, "How SOA Hits Home: Five Ways SOA Makes a Difference," which ran on ZDNet this week.
Carter gives specific examples of how SOA is making a difference for real people in their day-to-day home lives, beyond the corporate walls. She shows how SOA is reducing people's energy bills, saving money on car insurance without the talking gecko, and even helping save lives. These examples may not fit nicely on a corporate balance statement, but certainly it adds for people these organization are serving. And if it helps the customer, if it improves customer satisfaction, well, isn't that a payoff in and of itself?
I understand these types of payoffs won't be enough for most companies. So, if you work at an organization that needs a clear-cut financial payback, check out the tools Tom Pisello - founder of Alinean - tracked down for measuring the ROI of SOA.