Many MidMarket IT Leaders See 'No Need for SOA'

Loraine Lawson

Service-oriented architecture may have gained acceptance in large enterprises, but there are still a lot of CIOs and IT leaders out there who say it's nothing more than an over-hyped buzz word for something they're already doing.


In an informal survey of mid-market CIOs, IT Business Edge found that the majority said they had no current business need for SOA-roughly twice as many as said they had deployed SOA-with the rest split between "testing," "in production," deployment within a year or two years, or simply, "don't know."


Russ Tomlinson and Vickie Torregrossa were among those who said they did not have a business need for SOA. Of course, experts have never said that SOA is something every organization should do - although many have said service-orientation is where most software is headed. Instead, analysts say, a decision to build an SOA should be a business-driven decision.


Torregrossa is the director of Information Systems at Food for the Poor, a Florida-based charity. Tomlinson is the IS Manager at Chaparral Energy, which is based in Oklahoma and employs roughly 650.


Both told me they had considered SOA and rejected it. But in talking with them further, I discovered that they had not simply rejected SOA as "wrong for their business," In fact, they believed the concept was a sales tactic for selling them something they didn't need-and were already doing with modular programming.


"I think it's the latest buzz word. To me, what it really relates to is modular programming, which we already do," Torregrossa said in my interview with her last week. "We currently use RPG-ILE. We have an IBM iSeries and it lends itself to modularity. We re-programmed an older system in ILE using modules that could be reused. To me, that's basically what SOA is, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, but that's the main thing that I see in SOA, is being able to reuse things and make your systems more efficient and we already do that, basically."


"From our perspective there's a lot of overhead associated with an SOA," Tomlinson said. "At least with the white papers and such that I researched and studied, and with the environment that we have here, it's more old school IT infrastructure."


I think he was being polite, because I said I wrote about SOA a lot. So, I asked him outright. "A lot of people from IT feel it is hype, that it's kind of marketing BS I guess, for lack of a better term. Do you feel that way?"


He acknowledged that, yes, he thought it might be, "I think it's just another term for what we already do. It's just someone trying to get you buying into a niche or a slogan and you just say I'm SOA activist, so to speak, and all you're really saying is that you're proactive in what you do in your environment. And that's what we're doing, we just don't call it SOA."


Of course, both Tomlinson and Torragrossa have a much more bare-bones IT department than the companies that tend to implement SOA. Torragrossa has a home-grown system for managing donations, and her IT staff focuses on maintaining that and other requests the business may have. The charity's Web site, which arguably might be the place where the organization could reap benefits from SOA, is outsourced.


Tomlinson oversees a nine-person IT staff responsible for employees throughout the U.S. There are also three additional IT employees dedicated to Inertia, a third-party niche solution for the oil and gas sector.


He confided his IT department maybe isn't as "proactive" about trying to be strategically aligned with the business as they should be, but again-he's running an IT staff of nine, with three more employees


But what struck me during these interviews is that both are also keenly focused on supporting the goals of their organizations. Rather than thinking about IT, they think about the organization and its needs-and in that way, they struck me as even more aligned with the business mission than IT groups that talk a fine game about aligning and strategically enabling the business-but then spend thousands or millions on technologies and initiatives that never quite deliver.


As Tomlinson put it, " I look at it as we are very proactive in what we're doing for our customers. We are primarily help desk environment for the infrastructure that I have here. I don't do development, we don't have any developers on staff. We're strictly a help desk oriented environment. So we are service minded in what we do. We don't have to have a service-oriented architecture to provide a service. So that's why I feel we are providing a service and we're doing a really good job with it and our users appreciate what we've done for them."

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Feb 15, 2010 7:18 PM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says:

SOA was a sales tactic.  It is still a good architecture and appropriate in the mid-market.  But application and system architects should be making these decisions.  Not sales and marketing people! 

The thing is IT managers are responsible for this just as much as the sales and marketing people are.  You fall for the hype and you make judgement calls the same way you pick your favorite beer - based on marketing.  If we had a frog that croaked "SOA" instead of "Budweiser" you would probably fall for it. 

When was the last time you demanded a software engineer or architect to join the sales call as a client?  Look around you - even on this very web page.  There is marketing everywhere - and that marketing is driving your decision making.

Why put all your eggs in SOA when you can put it all in the cloud?  Not saying cloud services aren't of value, but it too suffers from over-marketing.

Feb 22, 2010 6:46 PM Zand Zand  says:

This article shows a lack of understanding of software architecture blamed on marketing hype. Due to the marketing hype if "new and improved", it states, Mid-market CIOs don't want innovation and improvements! That's absurd if you understand innovation, and naive if you don't. Lawson doesn't get SOA either despite "writing a lot about it." She is making extrapolations from a weak (by her own admission) sample to the entire mid-market. Judging from this article, it is not clear whether the surveyors understood what they were asking about,  or the CIOs knew much about the topics in question -- not good no matter how you look at it!

Service Oriented Architecture is an architecture for systems integration. If you do not have to connect to other components, systems and services (Web or otherwise) then you are writing standalone software (does anyone still write anything standalone for business use in an era when even games are networked) and as such you don't have much need for integration design and architecture.  Torragrossa confuses SOA to modular programing within a closed AS400 system. Good coding practices may allow reuse but SOA is not just about reuse, it is about communication, components design, information and systems architecture. It has to do with hiding and exposing interfaces. Tomlinson sounds like he has given too much to "Inertia"

SOA is not new but I, for one, am glad it is becoming more talked about and hopefully implemented by people who know what it is. SOA is used to expose interfaces to services that components provide, this way who wants to use these services has to write based your published protocols and specifications. If your component works as you've advertised, then you don't have to worry about other components that want to integrate with yours. That is simple, elegant, clean, and fast. You cannot do that with copy and paste or even writing reusable code. Also, one can have good or bad architecture with 3 or 3000 employees, and it should actually cost less to write good software in terms of real TCO. TCO is not just a matter of scale, it is also based on design decisions. With good architecture you can leverage a huge body of open source and vendor provided available components. These decisions should be made based on professional expertise and experience and not market hype.

Aug 15, 2010 8:46 AM scrabble helper scrabble helper  says: in response to R. Lawson

That's sure marketing rules the world..


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