The Human Condition Causes Metric Problems for SOA, Enterprise 2.0

Loraine Lawson

What do Enterprise 2.0 and SOA have in common?


Fuzzy metrics, that's what.


SOA has always had a metrics problem. At first, no one knew how to measure SOA or calculate its ROI. Then the list of metrics grew...and grew...and grew. But when it comes to that mother of all metrics - ROI - well, that's still a struggle.


IT departments are notoriously bad with ROI. Oh, sure, IT talks a good game. But as recent research on health management systems shows, sometimes those estimated savings never materialize. And that's certainly been a problem for SOA.


Enterprise 2.0 is in large part about collaboration, and that's not easy to measure either, as Joe McKendrick, an IT consultant and the SOA blogger for ZDNet, says in a recent post.


McKendrick recently participated in a panel discussion for Briefings Direct, hosted by Dana Gardner, another ZDNet blogger and the president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions. Officially, the discussion was about the "psychology of project management via Pragmatic Enterpise 2.0 and SOA."


But, as McKendrick points out, the meat of the discussion was exploring the return on investment (ROI) and measuring the success of services. Mind you, they're not talking about services in an IT "little packets of coded functions" sense. They're talking about business services-another concept SOA and Enterprise 2.0, at their best, share in common.


As I mentioned, SOA's measurement challenges are well documented, but perhaps less discussed is the fact that Enterprise 2.0 has a similar problem. Enterprise 2.0 is about collaboration, thus about human relationships-and you know what stinkers we are. How do you measure the human element, asks McKendrick.


I'm sure political scientists could offer some insights, but this is more than a statistics problem. As the panel discussed, part of the problem is that both Enterprise 2.0 and SOA suffer at the hands of another human condition: Mismatched expectations. McKendrick shares this tidbit from the panel:


"... by not being able to effectively measure a technology's benefits in a collaborative way, we're missing out on many of the potential benefits, Dion (Hinchcliffe) said. 'This is the classic technology problem. Technology improves and gets better exponentially, but we, as organizations and as people, improve incrementally. So, there is a growing gap between what's possible and what the technology can do, and what we are ready to do as organizations.' Mismatched expectations are another challenge. People tend to blame software and IT for project failures, but the real failure may be in communications, Michael (Krigsman, president and CEO of Asuret) added."


This failure to align expectations and communicate them-or, put simply, agree on where you're going and how to get there-creates an interesting problem: Often, IT has one set of goals and metrics, while the business has its own separate objectives and measurements.


So guess where both sides find themselves. Back at No IT/Business Alignment-ville, that's where.


How do you get out of that town? Panel member and IT analyst Sandy Rogers suggested that succeeding with SOA and Enterprise 2.0 is to stop focusing on the IT systems and choose metrics and key performance indicators that focus on the business services. I know-it seems so obvious, yet it needed saying. Kudos to Rogers for saying it, and kudos for McKendrick for highlighting her remarks.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Dec 14, 2009 9:51 AM Mike Marshall Mike Marshall  says:

Good article.  We found that ROI on our SOA was more of a credibility problem for IT with our business.  No one believed our predictions until we showed some backward-looking successes. 

Our post on the subject:

Dec 15, 2009 12:44 PM Joe Mckendrick Joe Mckendrick  says:

Great analysis as always, Loraine. ROI has always been much more of an art than a science in "IT/Business Alignment-ville" -- in fact, the more art, the better. The big question with SOA (and now Enterprise 2.0 as well) is how do you separate SOA's impact on the bottom line versus other initiatives underway at the time? Great management (and corporate culture) makes the difference, no matter how terrible your IT. A highly motivated and engaged workforce will find ways to work around a clunky application!

Dec 16, 2009 9:48 AM Francis Carden Francis Carden  says: in response to Joe Mckendrick

When I read the title, I thought we we going to be discussing the knock on effect (i.e. via the user) of the benefits of the architecture of SOA.Isn't it true, that often, a good 70-90% of your business costs is people? Thus, if there's a reduction (through productivity gains) in people or increase in service satisfaction levels through optimized processes, the net effect on the bottom line is greater than almost anywhere else in the business!No one would argue, some of the ROI might go on efficiencies that may lead to increases in sales but that's often the easiest thing to measure anyway.This begs the question then. Shouldn't it be really easy to measure the ROI? If it isn't and we have to make up new formula's then IT really should be listening to business more. Business will tell you, how much they save if you automate or improve efficiencies on any one of their "end user" processes. Easy math!

Dec 18, 2009 12:48 PM Loraine Lawson Loraine Lawson  says: in response to Francis Carden

After reading the IT healthcare system research, I just wonder how much of the ROI problem is because IT underestimates cost, particularly long-term, administrative costs. I mean, it's not very helpful if you replace 10 $10 an hour people with three person who cost $40 an hour.


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