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."