SOA Requires a Disciplined Multi-Dimensional Approach

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Business Relationship Manager - Product Lifecycle Management, Chevron Corporation

Bhaskar Chakrabarti, principal IT architect at JPMorgan Chase, addresses both tactical and strategic issues in the IT architecture in the financial services giant’s Treasury Services unit. In the tactical area, his group manages specific solutions and application architectural decisions. From a strategic standpoint, he is involved in the selection of tools and understanding the impact of newer and emerging areas like business process management, SOA, enterprise service buses and grid technologies, as well as determining how they can be implemented. His group also helps develop the strategic IT roadmap for his unit. talked to him about the current state of SOA implementation and what has to be done if SOA is to fully deliver on its potential. Why are people moving towards SOA today?

Chakrabarti: The primary driver now is integration. SOA is a standards-based approach through which one can integrate heterogeneous systems. But to me, that is just the SOA surface we are scratching. We have to dig deeper to realize the full potential of SOA. In what way?

Chakrabarti: It will be very beneficial to get the business involved. SOA and will get all the benefits of SOA. SOA is greater than what we are currently implementing. We will reap more benefits if we focus on other issues. So SOA is too pigeon-holed right now in IT?

Chakrabarti: Exactly. It is locked in a specific area of IT, integration, and it should come out of there. Where should it go and what should it address?

Chakrabarti: In integration, Web services technology is gaining all the traction these days, which is good for obvious reasons. But it is leading to a proliferation of Web services and point-to-point interactions all over the place. There is not a disciplined or structured approach. By enabling a Web services interface to any system, developers feel that they have achieved or are moving towards. And what is the problem?

Chakrabarti: It is very project-focused. It is being implemented in a very ad hoc manner without thinking of SOA as a program itself. SOA should have an identity of its own in addition to being used as a project-based approach. By doing so it can be scaled to an enterprise level as we start bringing different parties and other disciplines like business process management and business activity monitoring to be SOA-enabled. How do you make the transition from a project-orientation to a program-orientation?

Chakrabarti: It is a constant challenge. One big pressure is the perception that there could be huge costs. So people take a tactical project-based approach. How do you get them to have a broader view?

Chakrabarti: What is required is SOA knowledge at different levels in the organization. There needs to be a plan to show how SOA can follow an evolutionary path. It can start small but having an independent identity will instill the discipline needed to let it scale to an enterprise level. The investment required could gradually grow as more and more benefits are realized. Then upper management will be able to see the benefits that SOA can bring to IT and the business operations. Does SOA have to be a top-down effort, then?

Chakrabarti: It varies from organization to organization. The primary factor is how much appetite an organization has for SOA. But it should not be either a top-down or bottom-up approach in a purist sense. Individual projects benefit from the integration paradigm of SOA. At the same time, business process management and other disciplines that are driven from the top down need to be aligned to the bottom-up approach. If top-down and bottom-up does not meet, it will lead to failure. So what does a disciplined approach to SOA look like?

Chakrabarti: There has to be a common level of understanding by different groups that SOA is not just Web services and not just point-to-point interaction. It is not just monitoring, a registry or using Web services standards or using an ESB. It is much more than that and has to be recognized as a multi-dimensional discipline. Work needs to be done on each discipline to reap the full benefits that are promised. What kind of activities do you have in mind?

Chakrabarti: How does SOA interplay and overlap with enterprise architecture? From a program management standpoint, why should SOA be an independent program and what are the phases of the program? What are the factors that business should keep in mind about SOA? SOA has different dimensions that have to be recognized at different levels of abstraction, and addressed to have a disciplined approach. When you present these ideas, how do people react?

Chakrabarti: The challenge is that unless upper management buys into SOA, it is hard to do it on a large scale. The second issue is investment. It can be hard to quantify all the benefits that will emerge with successful SOA implementation. We have to determine the metrics we need to have, so when we talk to senior management we can tell when and how the benefits could be realized in dollar terms. So top management commitment is a challenge. Are there other significant challenges?

Chakrabarti: Business and IT collaboration. We do have joint collaboration sessions but not at the level that would have an impact on SOA. On one end, business performance management and KPI dashboards exist for senior management while Web services design and implementation tools are at the other end of the spectrum for developers in IT. These two unrelated SOA efforts need to be tied together for greater benefit. Do you see a rapid acceleration of SOA over the next few years? Will it take over the world?

Chakrabarti: SOA has been around for a while but is currently gaining traction. There is a lot of momentum building. But if it is not done in a controlled manner, it will not live up to its promises; it can fail, like any other technology. New standards are evolving day by day. But it is easy for an end-user to be confused by the hype. I am positive and optimistic that the time we are investing, both from an end-user perspective and from vendors and analysts, will move SOA in the right direction. But if it is presented as the solution for every problem, we will fail. How do you guard against over-promising?

Chakrabarti: We have to highlight what is in the scope of SOA and what isn’t; what does it solve and what can’t it solve. And what are the other interacting disciplines involved. Sometimes you may do SOA well, but if there are other areas with which it interfaces, like BAM and BPM, and they are not done in a proper manner, it will have an impact on SOA. Many people argue that SOA represents a cultural

as well as a technology change. Is there a lot of work to do there? And how does the work get done?

Chakrabarti: There is. SOA is based on the reusability of services. So if the service for reuse is not being laid out properly, it will be very difficult. This starts right from the financial issues. How will the services be funded? Is there a need for a shared services group? What is the scope of a shared services group? There are categories of services such as infrastructure services and business services, so does the core group need business people or can they just be technologists? Governance is a big challenge. Should it be centralized? How much should be a federation? And, if it is centrally funded, what should be the cost realization of each of the groups. These are complex issues dealing with organizational culture, structure, finances and technology that need to be sorted out. So the idea of reusability has a lot of implications.

Chakrabarti: Right. It is not the software that is being reused but the service. And there are other issues that need to be addressed like business agility. It is not strictly reuse that gives the benefits. There needs to be a strategy to address funding, the impact on the methodology of software development, the impact on the organizational structure for ongoing maintenance and so on. If companies do take a systematic approach to SOA, what will the payoff be?

Chakrabarti: As the SOA program evolves, companies have to see cost reduction and cost benefits. How much can they save and how many resources can be diverted to other initiatives? Because of the reuse, they will see a quicker time to market. I also see that BPM and SOA will merge in the future and the two disciplines together will bring business agility and facilitate the transformation of businesses. And IT would play a great role in enabling new business processes and initiatives partnering with business. So SOA has a lot of potential, but there is still a lot of work to be done. What do you recommend to people to get the started on the right track?

Chakrabarti: To start, it might make sense to have a person dedicated to leading and directing SOA to lay out the plan and lay out the vision and help institutionalize SOA, showing the benefits, educating different groups, and building out from the core. An SOA enterprise architect is needed to champion SOA initiatives in an organization.

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