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July 26th, 2006: User and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)

Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is the next hype created by IT-professionals. Everything is to be a service, nowadays. A service is usually some IT-thing that can be used more then once, whether it is hardware, software or even a business process.

The notion of service comes close to what we called and object in the 90's of the last century: a "thing" encapsulating (programming) code and data with a single entry and exit point. It is also close to what we call an application (software with certain functionality), a component (piece of software that can be bought), even a subroutine or procedure.

Anno 2006 there are many discussions by IT-professionals on services. The ones I saw are very detailed and very very technical. Middleware, brokers, categories of applications, hardware services etc. are the subject of many discussions.

From the point of view of the using organisation all these discussions are incomprehensible. This is logical, because those people are usually not technical IT-professional and the content of these discussions is irrelevant to them. The problem is they are affected by it, and their questions for a better support by the IT-infrastructure are not answered because of it.

For users the quality of the support of their IT-infrastructure is usually important. They have to do their job, and if the support is of high quality they can work much better then when the quality is low. Also: they pay for this support. The cost today is usually a multiple of 1000 dollar/euro per workplace and they really would like value for money.

The term service could make the life of these users easier. Not really in the sense the support will be better, but in the sense it will become easier to measure the performance of the IT-infrastructure. Per service one can agree upon a service level, and one can talk about a price such a service level would cost (to have the service, to maintain and support it etc.) in as Service Level Agreement (SLA).

Users are not really interested in the cost and time it takes to create services. Whether software and hardware can be re-used or put in the hands of external service providers is almost irrelevant for them. They want the right quality of service at the lowest price.

Now, there is a very strange phenomenon in this area. In all the years we have been working with and supported by IT we have always been talking about systems, services, applications etc: software. This is strange, because no user is really interested in software, Users need the right quality information at the right place and at the right time. No matter what kind of service takes care of this. For them the information is usually what they want, not really the service and the IT professionals make them pay for the services. At the beginning of this year, 2006,I heard a high-level IT-specialists sigh organisations have much to much functionality in their services and application, and at the same time they miss a lot of functionality that is not there (yet). Time for a real shift in our IT paradigm?

Services in organisations

The next step for IT-professionals is to get Service Orientation to the organisation itself. These people are trying to convince management they ought to reorganise and create the smallest possible working units in the organisation. Also services, and modelled in the same way as the IT is modelled where customer and supplier relations are leading and the use of IT is the real critical success factor. The sales pitch is to make organisations transparant (see and know what is done where and by whom) an agile (optimal flexibility to be able to change whatever happens). And to enable outsourcing of these services to IT-suppliers (business process outsourcing BPO).

My opinion?

  • I do not believe IT-professionals are capable to reorganise organisations because they are not business specialists. Even if these vendors say they work together with specialists like psychologists, culture experts etc. The problem is in the angle of incidence; IT is never the right angle to do this work.
  • I do not believe IT will make organisations agile when you are making IT the main issue. It should be the business that takes a leading role in these kinds of activities, not IT. And in discussion with IT-specialists practice shows usually synergy can be found between the two, so better solutions can be found on both sides.
  • There is hardly any proof in the practices of SOA to indicate that re-use is a real advantage for an organisation, as SOA vendors suggest. This is also true for the other advantages SOA should deliver.
  • (more is going to be provided, soon).

The next term IT-professionals are putting on the marketplace is Service Oriented Enterprise (SOE). It seems to become the acronym for reorganising organisations based on services. As I said before: be very careful. Practice shows no results yet, and there are a number of reasons why why warnings should be given.

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