Simplify IT Complexity

Service-oriented architecture (SOA) visionary Ron Schmelzer thinks businesses create most of their own problems.

Companies have spent so much on so many systems that now they have to spend most of their time and effort to get those systems to work together—and then they don’t have time or money to invest in the future,” declares this founder and senior analyst of Baltimore-based ZapThink LLC (www.zapthink.com), an information technology (IT) advisory and analysis firm. 

 

This predicament’s root cause comes from training technologists to build things to last, he says. “That’s diametrically opposed to building for change,” observes Schmelzer, who is co-author of “Service Orient or Be Doomed: How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business,” published in 2006 by John Wiley & Sons Inc. Everything has to be designed to work, he observes. “That said, what companies face now is this: With an IT organization that is so complex, adding more software and technology is not necessarily going to make things less complex.”

 

What’s the answer?

So if new software and technology aren’t the answer, what’s needed? “Enter SOA, a new approach in dealing with IT complexity,” Schmelzer proclaims.

SOA is founded on three primary tenets. First, build for loose coupling. “Don’t tell me how you work—just tell me what you need. Build systems around that,” Schmelzer explains. The real challenge is overcoming assumptions people make about underlying technology, data, security and related issues. “The more assumptions you make and the more you encode into the system, the less flexible you become,” he insists. 

The second tenet: build around composability. “That means you should be able to take two services from anywhere in the company, and without having to rebuild, combine them to meet your needs,” Schmelzer says. He calls this “Lego-vision,” in reference to the family of snap-together toys. “If you make them loosely coupled enough, you should have composability.” But today’s mentality of “If I need something new, then I’ll buy something new” differs from SOA’s, which is “If I need something new, then I’ll use what I already have,” he notes. 

Embrace heterogeneity is SOA’s third tenet. “With SOA, you can never assume things will be done the same way twice. But companies believe if they can just pick one database, network, whatever—then everything will be perfect and they’ll never have a problem again,” Schmelzer comments. But everything changes, save one exception—“a dead company,” he states, adding that SOA assumes things change simultaneously and continuously.

To futurist Miko Matsumura, SOA means sharing. “At every single point in the value exchange, there’s a provider and consumer.” If businesses realign themselves this way, “they end up with a powerful ‘Lego-like’ way of assembling business functionality,” adds Matsumura, vice president of SOA marketing for Fairfax, Va.-based webMethods (www.webmethods.com), which provides business-integration software to optimize IT assets.

Due to IT’s maturity, it should be ready to accept SOA, he suggests. But he adds that there is too much software customization today. “You want a certain amount of generic parts—movement to off-the-shelf,” says Matsumura. He is not anti-customization, but adds, “If we have to handcraft something, it’d better be something that makes our brand completely unique.”

Spreading SOA’s message, Matsumura and Schmelzer recently launched SOA Master Class Online (www.soamasterclass.com). “We want to provide a common language and framework of understanding,” says Matsumura. The class has two free curricula. “The Foundation Curriculum goes through definitions. The Governance Curriculum is a community model,” Matsumura explains.

To embrace SOA, he advises first establishing agreements within a company and then creating a competency center, made up of individuals. They are the stars in Matsumura’s vision. “The human and business-culture sides of SOA are more important than the existing technologies.” 

 

C. Kenna Amos,

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