SOA: Fashionable Fad or Long-Term Strategy?

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I just had to laugh when I read Rick Smith's recent column, Integration SO? Think SOA, wherein the UK alliances director at Cape Clear Software compares IT to the fashion industry.

I would've never thought to make the comparison, but it struck me as completely appropriate. It's too true that this year's "IT must have" can become as taboo as Birkenstocks on Bravo within six months.

The question is, will SOA become a "tech don't" or a new classic that's never out of style?

The key, Smith argues, is in the application.

Of course, it's helpful to note that Smith is writing for resellers. Much of his conversation is about how resellers can use SOA to sell new services and build relationships. But I think his advice applies across the board. If SOA's going to survive its own hype, it will need to be built with open standards and Web services.

Vendors are also going to have to stick with SOA for a longer period than other technology initiatives. For instance, SAP spent the past five years developing its SOA roadmap, which spans an additional five years. But to actually switch its customers to SOA,it will first need to find employees and consultants with the skills to implement SOA, and right now, that's a serious impediment.

There are a lot of reasons why SAP faces a labor shortage. Obviously, there aren't that many people who have actually done SOA implementations, so it would be hard to find people with experience.

We write about it so much, we often assume SOA is a given for the IT community. But I'm not sure. Personally, I wonder if techies are a bit jaded. Many of my techie friends have spent a lot of time and money chasing IT fads. Despite assurances that SOA is here to stay, they're afraid if they jump on the SOA bandwagon, it will be either:

  1. So cutting edge their own companies will never adopt the technology, or
  2. Go out of style as soon as they've developed the needed skills to actually work in the field.

SOA isn't just adding on a new application or even network -- it's a complete IT overhaul. And it doesn't just impact your systems. You'll need to retrain your employees to think about reuse instead of creation.


It can even mean changing how you reward employees. Sandy Carter, IBM's marketing VP for SOA and Websphere, told me that SOA forced IBM to overhaul its own internal reward system. Before SOA, developers were rewarded for creating new code. Having a code patent was once a badge of honor at IBM, she said, adding she had a few patents herself. Now, the rewards go to those who reuse code or create code that will be reused.


The extent of preparation required for SOA actually could help ensure it's a long-term strategy, and not a technology fad. Assuming, that is, technology vendors and techies can stay focused on SOA for the time it will take to actually implement it.