The Carpet Gets Lumpier

It’s often the case that the best learning is derived from hard, painful experience – and I believe that Service Oriented Architecture transformation on an Enterprise scale is an excellent source of bone-crunching experiences…but the pain is a good pain, the no-pain-no-gain-justifiable sort of pain. I’ve been involved with a SOA transformation for some years, and if I force myself to sit for a moment and consider the biggest lesson I can derive from that world of effort is simply how to fund reuse programmes. It’s as far from technology as it could possibly be – and for those of you who still think SOA is a technology thing…..think again. So the biggest challenge in my book is about efficient and meaningful investment…..and that’s as old a problem as money itself. Why?

If we believe that reuse of SOA assets is crucial in justifying the investment, then naturally we begin to define coarse-grained business services (functional containers with a number of operations we can utilise) underpinning our newly optimised business processes. So far so good. The logical architecture is coloured-in, the powerpoints are posted, and off we go. Once we get over the organisational challenges (coming a close second to my number-one choice) then the building begins. It’s here we identify that the first guy who needs to use one of our ‘reusable’ business service has to build it….and immediately the full force of the architectural conscience committee descend on the poor guy trying to do the right thing.

The compromise is in my experience, more often than not, that the guy gets to build his ‘slice’ of the strategic business service….the one which will magically evolve in subsequent iterations to become truly meta-data driven and  yes…reusable and flexible as per the business case. So – we fund a client-specific thread of functionality behind our reusable business service, and when we look at how extensible the deployed solution is….related to the question of ‘how much will the first guy pay to make the second guy’s life easier?’  –  we realise it’s a hardwired, brittle spike of integration behind a new (and very expensive interface specification). People just aint gonna pay, out of their pockets, to make your life easier…it’s a simple human instinct.

Over time, as each additional resuse dimension is implemented within the business service, if we’re not careful we see an inversion of the organisational or functional stove-pipes we are supposed to be removing, and the only new thing we’ve done is, to coin the phrase, to put lipstick on the pig. We’re effectively taking that nasty point-to-point integration that’s apparently killing our business, and paying to re-implement it behind a shiny new XML interface. So as our newly furnished Enterprise carpets begin to get lumpier, the machine rolls onwards ticking the reuse boxes…and until we are accountable for the full-life cost of SOA assets, as opposed to the short term balance-sheet-cooked-to-meet-targets, then we’re gonna have to tread carefully…

Is the Web2.0 hype going to be sufficiently padded to hide our lumpy carpets? We’ll see…

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