SOA what?

Services-oriented architecture (SOA) may be “the best thing since bread came sliced”, says a Canadian analyst, but surprisingly it hasn’t gained much traction in the marketplace.

Today, a mere two-fifths of Canadian organizations are involved in an SOA project, with smaller businesses slower to adopt the architecture than larger ones.

SOA was pegged as “one of those next big things”, said David Senf, manager of software research at Toronto-based analyst firm IDC Canada Inc., at the IT360 conference this week.

“But that was seven years ago, and it’s interesting to see where we’re at with SOA adoption,” he said.

The lag is evident when Canadian companies are compared to their U.S. counterparts, who currently hold a strong lead in SOA adoption, said Senf. This is because Canada is primarily a mid-market country, with a manufacturing-heavy industry that tends not to be early adopters of this type of technology, he added.

Senf said the benefits to SOA include decreasing time to market, increasing adherence to regulatory compliance, increasing customer experience, optimizing end-to-end processes, and providing business intelligence.

“When we look at companies who have automated more tasks, who have virtualized across these different layers, we do see them achieving various cost benefits, being able to be more flexible in their business processes.”

However, the SOA climate in Canada is not exactly active, said Senf. “Most organizations are saying they’re going to use it when it makes economic sense, or in an ad-hoc manner – a very passive-type thing.”

He said organizations passive to SOA view the architecture as “just another tool in a toolbox to get something done,” rather than using it to transform the business.


But therein lays the issue behind SOA adoption, because most companies don’t see its business value, nor do they feel they can afford it, or have the SOA skill set among their IT functions to deploy and maintain it, he said.

“That’s certainly what it looks like on the surface,” said Paul MacDonald, senior vice-president and chief information officer (CIO) at Regina, Sask.-based Farm Credit Canada Corp. “When you start to talk about SOA – even for me – it sounded like a new twist on every story I’d heard in the last 10 years.”

“While there is a learning curve, it’s not as mysterious as it originally seems.”

About three years ago, financial services organization Farm Credit Canada identified the need to redesign its customer enterprise value chain on SOA, by transforming the multi-stage process into an integrated end-to-end approach.

“SOA allows you to move to a place of continuous improvement around these business processes over time,” said MacDonald.

The slow SOA adoption observed in the Canadian marketplace, said MacDonald, is due to the IT industry asking the wrong questions. “A lot of people are arguing as to the purity of SOA – how many services do they actually have deployed, and so on.”

However, the real question, he said, is the reason SOA deployment has been so difficult for many organizations.

The problem is not technical, according to MacDonald. “It’s about business alignment and the need to manage business processes differently as we have in the past. That’s where most people get tripped up.”

SOA, he said, is the technology that will enable better business decisions.

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