Justifying the ROI of SOA in 10 Seconds

After years of internally disjointed and overlapping application integration efforts, you are convinced the time has come for an enterprise-wide SOA deployment… but how do you convince your CIO, CFO, and other executives to make the serious commitment of resources and funding?

The most common approach is to roll up your sleeves, open an “ROI for SOA” spreadsheet template and create the cost/benefit justification. Despite the extensive amount of time it will take, this may very well be the ideal approach (but there is another approach).

Your spreadsheets starts with rows for each proposed service and columns of costs for individual service design, development, testing and implementation including the added time to make the service re-usable. Then you determine the estimated re-use, predicted hours saved by re-use, estimated annual savings, break-even date and more. After refining this spreadsheet for months, you schedule a meeting with executives and the more people that attend the meeting, the more additional analyses you will be asked to create. One suggestion might be to instead take a top-down approach based on the latest corporate business objectives as opposed to your bottom up approach. If you started with a top down approach in the first place, how about a bottom up one as well? While the suggestions may be useful, they do delay your company’s ability to keep up with your competitors who may have already moved to an enterprise SOA and can move much faster than your company. OnStar for example starts some of their projects 75% complete from day 1 through extensive re-use of services, giving them a significant time-to-market advantage over competitors.

Fortunately, there is another strategy for justifying an aggressive push into enterprise-wide SOA. At the recent Oracle OpenWorld 2011, Choice Hotels VP of Application Development and Architecture Rain Fletcher as well as other key enterprise architects from Choice Hotels, Eben Hewitt and Charlie Taylor, presented how they quickly achieved buy-in during their big meeting with executives using a simple, yet powerful approach. Rather than walking the executives through cell after spreadsheet cell, they followed the “a picture is worth a thousand words (or should I say ‘spreadsheet cells’)” strategy. During one of the SOA panels, Eben recounted the key meeting and said he was looking forward to the “What is the ROI for your enterprise SOA strategy” question. Well before the meeting, the architects informally drew their existing architecture on a whiteboard which evolved over time into something as complicated as the New York City Subway, the London Tube map, and the Boston T (subway) overlaid on top of each other…hopelessly complicated. Although most business-focused executives might not view enterprise SOA as a top priority, the Choice Hotel executives took one look at the whiteboard image and immediately understood why Internet-based business objectives couldn’t move at the pace they needed to, couldn’t innovate with the latest Google API interoperability, and couldn’t be first-to-market with innovative cloud deployments. The visual impact of the “spaghetti/bird-nest”diagram jumpstarted the executive's understanding of the as-is business inertia challenge…hard to move rapidly based on that infrastructure (see image below).


Choice Hotels pre-SOA informal application architecture whiteboard diagram

So if you are looking for a rapid solution to convey to non-SOA savvy executives why enterprise SOA needs to be a top priority, consider the “picture is worth a thousand cells” strategy. Even if you put the time and effort into the ROI of SOA spreadsheet, complementing your justification with an image can jumpstart their understanding. They may not be 100% convinced after staring at the image for 10 seconds, but you’ve taken them past the tipping point…and 10 seconds is an impressive break-even time compared to a spreadsheet-only approach.

Eben and Rain discussing their ROI of SOA meeting with executives at OOW

Oracle OpenWorld 2011 SOA Panel with Rain Fletcher (far right) and Eben Hewitt (second from right) from Choice Hotels explaining their ROI of SOA justification

So take your Dry Erase marker and sketch out your as-is infrastructure and invite everyone else to add their input.  Before long, your new social media platform (the whiteboard) will replace the water cooler as the ideal location to better understand your as-is infrastructure and collectively brainstorm for a better tomorrow.


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