The term “service-oriented architecture” was once the hot buzzword among the IT industry. These days, it is rarely heard amid all the chatter around cloud computing, software-defined technologies and dynamic data infrastructure.
But at the end of the day, we are still talking about roughly the same thing: transitioning the enterprise away from a monolithic, application-centric data ecosystem to a more flexible service-based one. In the process, IT evolves from technology gatekeeper to solutions provider, drawing on a range of internal and external resources in order to meet business objectives.
This is more than just a technological shift, mind you, although technology is a big part of it. In actuality, it encompasses strategy, tactics, business processes, human and departmental relationships – in short, the entire enterprise culture from the mailroom to the CEO’s desk. And quite naturally, none of this is going to happen without a fair number of toes being stepped on.
The most basic service the enterprise can provide, of course, is IT itself. There are literally thousands of IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS) offerings in the cloud these days, most of them geared toward providing rapid failover of entire data stacks for disaster recovery. But when it comes to provisioning ITaaS as an alternate data environment for knowledge workers, many top-level enterprise executives are hesitant, according to consulting firm Accenture. In a recent survey, the company found that 68 percent of organizations do not plan to put core processes on a service-delivery footing for another five years or more, even though more than half recognize the move as critical to their organization’s success. Strikingly, it seems that upper-level executives are more gung-ho on services, with more than 60 percent saying they are ready to begin the transition right away compared to only 29 percent of middle managers.
Probably the biggest change, however, will show up in Dev/Ops, says InfoWorld’s Richard Mendis. When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos mandated way back in 2002 that all internal development had to incorporate a Web service interface, the fear was palpable. How could they maintain security and control when anyone with a Web browser could access the app? A decade later, Amazon is the largest provider of cloud services in the world, by far. The good news is that enterprises looking to emulate this success have a wealth of solutions to build APIs for both services and microservices. All that is needed is the will and organizational structure to leverage these tools into a robust service-based environment.
As I mentioned, though, this is more than just a technological change, but a jolt to the entire corporate culture. As CIO.com’s Jaikumar Vijayan notes, turning IT into a services broker will be hard on everyone. And while it removes much of the friction that exists between IT and business units today, it will likely introduce new frictions as knowledge workers become accustomed to getting what they want when they want it, costs or other limitations be damned. Across the board, then, corporate units will have to learn new ways to communicate: Business leaders will become savvier regarding the technological underpinnings of the cloud and the roles that governance and security play, and IT will become well-versed in business goals and the ultimate purpose behind all the fancy new tools they are deploying.
This challenge will also extend beyond the enterprise into the provider and supplier chain, says Bain & Co.’s Susan Renshaw. For much of enterprise history, vendors forged close working relationships with IT leaders in the enterprise, often forming common strategies in order to further sales and advanced technological prowess. IT’s relationship with users, however, has been, well, rocky. Now that vendors and service providers are dealing directly with those users, things like customer satisfaction must be viewed in an entirely new light. Not only are there multiple, and often conflicting, requirements across the user base, many of them are based on an inadequate understanding of technology or the role that their one piece of the software plays in the bigger picture.
With all of this on the line, it is understandable that many enterprise leaders do not want to move too far too fast into service-based provisioning. However, competitive pressures have a way of motivating people by replacing the fear of failure with the fear of being left behind, and as nimble start-ups built from the ground up around services rather than applications start to encroach upon traditional market segments (or indeed as those segments give way to more productive activities), even large corporations may find that their entrenched patterns of behavior are more of a hindrance than a help.
If a large piece of the IT industry is giving itself five years to make this transition, as Accenture suggests, then there is probably still time to get your ducks in a row. But if many of those enterprises are no longer present within that time frame because they failed to adapt quickly enough, then the transition to service-oriented architectures will have taken place anyway, but not without casualties.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.