Enterprise Integration: SOA “re-use” is a wolf ?

Is our focus on achieving Service re-use actually harming the work we’re doing in the creation of the SOA? Are we so focused on the re-use model that we’re damaging the implementation of the SOA blueprint? Let me try explain why I believe this is the case.

Re-use is a measure of what? In some cases it means how much common code is duplicated and leveraged in new software developments. In other cases it means the more literal measure of concurrent exploitation of a shared resource. In our SOA governance structure, re-use is definitely analagous to the latter case – the one-size-fits-all coarse grained, generic service that enables me to service all variants of any particular requirement through a single, common service interface. Breathe………..!

That’s great for the provider who can now hide behind the ‘re-usable’ facade, pointing knowingly at the SOA governance literature every time you try to have the conversation that his service requires a PhD in data-modelling and xml cryptography to use it?

“But it’s re-usable” comes the reply as you weep, holding out your outstretched arms, cradling the tangled reams of xml-embossed printer-paper representing the only ticket into the service you need to use to avoid being branded a heretic. “Are you challenging the SOA governance policy? Let me just make that call to the department of SOA Enforcement…err I mean the Chief Architect…what’s your name again?” comes the prompt follow-up as the hand reaches for the phone…

I’m now convinced that re-use is a proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. We must look more closely at the cost of creating and operating these ‘jack-of-all-trades’ services, not just the fact that we can create them. If it transpires that we’re incurring more cost (both financial and operational) at both the provider-side and the consumer-side, by virtue of aspiring to ‘re-use through generalisation’ then we have truly lost the plot. Could this be part of the reason that SOA ROI is such a difficult subject to discuss and often results in a “year-n payback” kind of response?

I also think there’s an analogy to make here. Take one of our local government services which are considered part of the service fabric of our community. If the services are made too generalised and therefore spawn highly complex forms and a high level of complex dialogue in face-to-face scenarios, who is that helping? Yes we can say that we’ve consolidated ‘n’ simpler services into a single generalised service and saved on office infrastructure and so forth. But if we then increase the cost of processing requests for that generalised service both in terms of ‘steps’ to get from the generalised input to the specific action (therefore requiring larger offices in which to house the longer queues) and also in terms of now having to cater for the increased and excessive fall-out volumes based on the fact that it’s just so damn complex to fill the forms in (therefore requiring even larger offices to in which to house the even longer queues)….then we really missed the point about re-use.

It makes complete sense to look to generalise and re-use in the SOA design-space, such that we can converge similar designs to a common reference model and avoid the unconstrained artistry of technicians with deadlines. In terms of service contracts and interface specifications through,  translating that design-time re-use to a wire-exposed endpoint seems like we’re stopping short of the ultimate goal of accelerating re-use by empowering consumers to bond more efficiently with that service.

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