SOA’s People Problem

Are reluctant passengers slowing down your SOA train?

By Bob Rhubart

March/April 2014

Based on my conversations with various experts in service-oriented architecture (SOA), the consensus is that SOA tools and technology have achieved a high level of maturity. Some even use the term industrialization to describe the current state of SOA. Given that scenario, one might assume that SOA has been wildly successful for every organization that has adopted its principles.

Obviously SOA could not have achieved its current level of maturity and industrialization without having reached a tipping point in the volume of success stories to drive continued adoption. But some organizations continue to struggle with SOA. The problem, according to some experts, has little to do with tools or technologies.

“One of the greatest challenges to implementing SOA has nothing to do with the intrinsic complexity behind a SOA technology platform,” says Oracle ACE Luis Augusto Weir, senior Oracle solution director at HCL AXON. “The real difficulty lies in dealing with people and processes from different parts of the business and aligning them to deliver enterprisewide solutions.”

Understanding why people don’t want to cooperate is almost as important as explaining the business case. ”–Lonneke Dikmans,
Oracle ACE Director

What can an organization do to meet that challenge? “Staff the right people,” says Weir. “For example, the role of a SOA architect should be as much about integrating people as it is about integrating systems. Dealing with people from different departments, backgrounds, and agendas is a huge challenge. The SOA architect role requires someone that not only has a sound architectural and technological background but also has charisma and human skills, and can communicate equally well to the business and technical teams.”

The SOA architect’s communication skills are instrumental in establishing service orientation as the guiding principle across the organization. “A consistent architecture comprising both business services and IT services can comprehensively redefine the role of IT at the process level,” says Danilo Schmiedel, solution architect at Opitz Consulting. That helps to shift the focus from siloes to services and get SOA on track.

To that end, Oracle ACE Director Lonneke Dikmans, a managing partner at Vennster, stresses the importance of replacing individual, uncoordinated projects with a focused program that promotes communication, cooperation, and service reuse. “Having support among lead developers and architects helps, as does having sponsors that see the business case and understand the strategic value,” she says.

But even with such support, there will be those who resist the necessary changes. “Understanding why people don’t want to cooperate is almost as important as explaining the business case,” says Dikmans. “You have to sell it to everyone.”

What you need to sell is the fact that a disparate collection of services does not constitute SOA. Bridging siloes is a matter of eliminating the “not invented here” syndrome and mistrust that can keep one team from using a service developed by another.

Here, too, according to Dikmans, the role of the SOA architect comes into play by exercising the authority to place a strong focus on service reuse, and by taking steps to clearly communicate which services are to be reused. Both points are greatly aided by making services and other reusable assets highly visible, readily available, and easily trusted.

“Some organizations struggle to achieve the benefits of SOA because of a lack of trust with respect to the available services,” says Mark Dutra, senior principal product manager for SOA governance at Oracle. “Visibility is the key to mitigating trust issues. Visibility into which services are available; how those services were designed, built, and tested; who is using the services; and how they are performing all helps build confidence in the service portfolio and facilitate service reuse.”

Of course, building that confidence requires something more than a warm smile and a hearty handshake. “Ensure that the right tools are in place to promote team collaboration and to provide visibility over existing assets,” advises Weir. Those tools can include Oracle WebCenter to create a knowledge-sharing portal, and Oracle Enterprise Repository for service visibility and lifecycle governance. But, as Dikmans points out, the office water cooler and coffee machine are also tools you can use—catalysts for conversation in a well-mounted charm offensive to get people on board to drive SOA success.

Next Steps

 Old Habits Die Hard in the New SOA World
 Industrial SOA, an article series on OTN
 9 Tips for Organizational Maturity in SOA

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