Is SOA a Success or Not So Much? Survey Says...


With statistics, it's all how you slice them-or, at least, where you focus your attention. We know this, and yet, statistics are the lifeblood of so much advice and so many investments.


I was reminded of this while reading a Forrester Research paper, Insights For CIOs - SOA and Beyond, which was written Dec. 15 and is currently being offered as free research (you'll just need to register).


I don't want to sound like I'm slighting the report-the stats are quite interesting and useful, and the advice is excellent-but I couldn't help but think the conclusion you reach from the statistics depends on whether you're a "glass half-empty" or "glass half-full" kind of person. Or, alternatively, if you're selling SOA or buying it.


Forrester surveyed enterprises-from the Global 2000 to large companies of at least 1,000-about their experience with SOA and their plans for future investments:

"Sixty-eight percent of enterprises say they are using SOA or will be using it by the end of 2010. Fifty-six percent are using SOA now, and that number jumps to 74 percent when considering only Global 2000 organizations. All this SOA usage is not just industry hype and experimentation, either. SOA has been delivering tangible results that make IT executives want more of it: 52 percent of current enterprise SOA users say it has delivered enough benefit that they plan to expand its use, while only 1 percent of SOA users say they are cutting back on SOA because they see little or no benefit. However, getting SOA right takes work: 18 percent of enterprise SOA users say they are struggling to get the benefits."

It sounds pretty darn rosy, doesn't it? But a less optimistic person -- say, me, for instance -- might have looked at the same survey results and focused on different answers to paint a more cautious pictures.


For instance, 32 percent of all enterprises say SOA has delivered less benefits than expected, but they still plan to continue their use of SOA-a finding that rises to 39 percent when you look at Global 2000 enterprises. And if you add the pros and cons, 52 percent say they'll expand SOA while 48 say they will not expand SOA. If you add in the 1 percent that's actually cutting SOA because they've seen little or no benefit, then you're getting pretty close to a 50/50 approval/disapproval rating.


Another problem with the statistics: It's impossible to tell how those companies implemented SOA. Over and over, experts warn that the key to SOA is to avoid viewing it as a technology; instead, view it as an approach for achieving business goals. In fact, that's why Forrester wrote this report, and it can be summed up in this statement, which I thought was excellent:

""SOA is the approach, not the solution, so it works best when integrated into the flow of your BT (Business Technology) initiatives, not when pursued as a big strategic investment for its own sake."

My guess is, that 38 percent is doing SOA the way it should be done to achieve maximum benefit-and I, for one, would like to know more about how those companies viewed the investment.


So, as I say with statistics, it can be all about how you slice them. But what else can we go on? Intuition? You can't program for that and it has an even shorter shelf life.


There is one other way you can evaluate SOA, or any other initiative: case studies. Of course, the sample size is small, and people tend not to do case studies when they've failed at something, so the picture here, too, can be overly rosy. But with case studies you can learn more about the business involved-and how closely it relates to your business-the use case, the implementation details, and the problems.

As it happens, Joe McKendrick recently provided summaries of "17 shining examples" of SOA success stories -- divided into a Part I and Part II. Again, the problem here is that you're not seeing the failures, but the examples cover a wide range of initiatives and organizations, including a look at how SOA helped integrate a manufacturing plant's information and allowed end users at Pfizer to create their own data mashups.


So, check out the case studies and read Forrester's report which, in addition to the statistics, includes more applicable information, including how SOA provides the foundation for BPM, event processing, predictive analytics and rules and policies for business flexibility. You'll also find tips for your "unique path to SOA" and advice on how to practice mature SOA.


Finally, if you're wondering how we got from the "SOA is Dead" declaration by Anne Thomas Manes early in 2009 to still talking about SOA in December, you might want to check out TechTarget's "Year in Review, 2009: SOA comes back from the dead." It provides a link to the U.S. Coast Guard's SOA story, as well as a discussion on how cloud revitalized SOA and why SOA as a practice, if not a term, will survive in the years ahead.