The December issue of the Harvard Business Review contains a compelling article on “Why You Shouldn’t Go Global” (excerpeted here for free). While the article is worth reading, a sidebar in the article raises some excellent points which we might be able to apply to SOA. Since the sidebar is not available in the free excerpt I’ll provide a brief overview of it here.
The name of the sidebar is “The Susceptibility to Managerial Fads” and is only a page in length.. While SOA is not necessarily a managerial fad (is it?), the authors Marcus Alexander and Harry Korine provide insights into issues facing IT trends today – namely, popular trends (or “bandwagons”) may lead to sloppy thinking.
According to the sidebar, one example of “sloppy thinking” is that labels used to describe a trend get stretched far beyond their original meaning. SOA was intially described by Gartner back in 1996 (SSA Research Note SPA-401-068, 12 April 1996, “‘Service Oriented’ Architectures, Part 1” and SSA Research Note SPA-401-069, 12 April 1996, “Service Oriented’ Architectures, Part 2”). In that original article SOA was described as “a style of multitier computing that helps organizations share logic and data among multiple applications and usage modes“. Seems fairly straightforward, right? If we jump back to 2008 SOA has been stretched, pulled and prodded to mean many things, of which multitier computing is only a small part. People have defined SOA in so many different ways that its become almost meaningless. Industry pundits have only added to this confusion by assigning version numbers (SOA 1.0, SOA 2.0). defining segments (WOA, POA, etc) and creating maturity models (far too many to list here).
As the authors note, the original insight (in this case SOA) and context that gave rise to it gets lost as people scramble to jump on the bandwagon. This leads to people focusing on things that are often irrelevant or unrelated to the benefits the insight promised to deliver. I’ve seen far too many people attempt to classify a solution as “not SOA” while completely ignoring the benefits the solution delivers to the organization. Are we implementing solutions or buzzwords? Far too often it seems like the latter.
Alexander and Korine observe that just because a trend follows this pattern doesn’t necessarily mean the original idea was wrong. Problems arise when people are more interested in jumping on the bandwagon instead of delivering value to the organization.