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SOA is all things to all marketers; but business as usual to CIOs and BAs December 15, 2006

Posted by Cyril Brookes in General.

We’re in an era when IT and BI are defined by marketing slogans. As with so much of the IT techno-sphere this is both a benefit and a demerit. In the “old days” the marketing hype was basically directed at infrastructure, hardware and operating systems; System 360 for example. We CIO types could focus on the application strategy, more or less uninhibited by energetic sales people and consultants grabbing the ear of the CEO and pointing out the error of our ways.

Not today. SOA in particular creates a marketing furor. The noise is so great that there is hardly an IT related article, aside from academia of course, that doesn’t contain some reference to it. CIOs have to have a SOA strategy, whether they believe or not, or they’re dead.

KM was a failure for marketing hype, no one could understand what it meant!

At risk of falling into the same melting pot, I believe there are a number of inconsistencies and probable errors in all this cacophony.

The words Service Oriented Architecture mean little on their own, I mean it’s Motherhood-and-Flag stuff. What useful architecture isn’t service oriented, depending on your definition of service?

As for SOA 2; please! We’re not that sure about base SOA.

How can apparently otherwise sensible, normal, reasonable human beings devote so many column inches to this concept? For example:

SOA is an architecture built around a collection of services on a network that communicate with each other. The services are loosely coupled, have well-defined, platform-independent interfaces, and are reusable

A more business oriented description is:

SOA services are designed to interoperate with different development technologies, which make them flexible and reusable, and by creating an abstraction layer between business logic and business process layers; SOA enables businesses to focus on business processes rather than low-level application and integration issues.

You may recall, Dear Reader, Object Oriented Design was the 80s fad, one source defined its benefits as:

OOD can yield the following benefits: maintainability through simplified mapping to the problem domain, which provides for less analysis effort, less complexity in system design, and easier verification by the user; reusability of the design artifacts, which saves time and costs; and productivity gains through direct mapping to features of Object-Oriented Programming Languages.

Key terms in these, and many other, descriptions appear to be: maintainability, i.e. flexibility (?), mapping to the problem domain (i.e. the business process), reusability.

There’s not much new under the sun, or in the IT shop, just re-emphasis of the old success criteria. Business process reengineering isn’t dead in the consultant and analyst marketing department, its just called BPM, SOA, or whatever and carries on.

I don’t have any quarrel with maximal use of web style interconnection, and the consistency that can bring to inter-application (or service if you will) communications. In the 80s that didn’t exist as an option, now it does, so let’s use it. And the data warehouse is obviously a marvelous concept for enabling loose coupling between applications, services, external and internal business processes. So let’s use it, but don’t look for an acronym.

But that’s it, in my view, the rest is, or ought to be: common sense, good practice and high quality requirements specifications. Simple, game over.

I do have an issue with all the focus on BPM and its role as a part of an IT systems architecture that’s deified by the analyst/consultant pressure group. This is supposed to enable reusability at a higher level than simple reusable code segments or inter-process communication.

High level reusability of applications is, and was with OOD, largely a myth in my experience. An interesting exposition on this topic is given by Joe McKendrick in Another vote against the value of ‘reuse’.

Business processes change with time and only small differences can render reuse of applications impractical. On the other hand, data models are mostly constant (if well done, that is), unless the business changes radically. That’s why the data warehouse has such a (relatively) permanent process decoupling potential.

I guess that, in the end, the CIOs have plenty of defenses against the dark art of SOA vendor pressure. The definitions are now so vague, all encompassing, and inconsistent, that they will always have work completed and projected that can be seen as conforming to something.

As long as they are combining good requirements definition and implementation practice with web interfaces and data warehousing (and who isn’t), they are as much SOA compliant as needs be.

Ed Yourdon is one of the originators of Structured Design, the predecessor of OOD and all methodologies. His latest book Death March is described as a revelation in that he appears to debunk much of what he espoused many years earlier. I believe may yet see a revolution against this hi-brow, consultant speak stuff that’s got to have an acronym to describe it; lest perhaps the emperor is explicitly seen, i.e. without clothes.

.One final observation on SOA and its popularity in the white paper, marketing blurbs. There’s a rush to associate products and consulting services with SOA. A common way of doing this is to use the comic, equally inappropriate, phrase: joined at the hip.

SOA must have a large number of hip joints; including, at least:

Perhaps we could add serendipity, nirvana, holy grail, silver bullet, or just B/S?



1. 2007, the Year Metadata will become King of the BI Brown-field « Cyril on Business Intelligence - January 3, 2007

[…] may know from my last post that I believe there are only two aspects of the SOA hype that are material to the BI […]

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