The Quiet Evolution of SOA

We’ve all found ourselves looking at an organization’s web services and commenting on how “It’s not really SOA”. Maybe because the program still maintains point-to-point interfaces, or maybe the organization hasn’t put in place any form of governance, but for whatever reason, we declare that it simply isn’t comprehensive enough to be considered SOA. That begs the question then: who is actually doing TRUE enterprise wide SOA? Well… very few organizations. Anne Manes famously declared that “SOA is dead” back in 2009. So why is it that we still find ourselves evangelizing and building towards this vision?

The answer is that our understanding of what makes an SOA program successful has quietly evolved over the last few years. Enterprise-wide re-platforming and re-architecture initiatives gave way to tactical adoption of SOA. The success of SaaS and BPM adoption meant that organizations are implementing the principles of service orientation without explicitly calling it an SOA program. And instead of trying to figure out just how to effectively measure SOA ROI at the enterprise level, much greater success has been found measuring the value created within a given portfolio and/or capability.

So while we Architects have not given up on the hope of achieving SOA utopia, we have become more realistic in our approach:

  1. Identify a very specific problem to solve with an SOA approach, be it to reduce the time-to-market of a frequently changing business process, or to reduce the application footprint of a given line-of-business.
  2. Demonstrate the value of SOA by successfully solving that problem.
  3. Rinse and repeat.

At the end of the day, any plans for enterprise level SOA can only be built a critical mass of successful self-sustaining SOA capabilities/portfolios.