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Enterprise Architect: Article

Powerful Enterprise Architecture and Information Technology Strategies

Why SOA is the missing link

The promises of services-oriented architecture, enterprise architecture (EA), and information technology (IT) strategies - to change IT from inhibitor to enabler of business flexibility and align IT with business strategies - are remarkably similar. However, for many companies, their EA and IT strategies have not become the catalyst for the intelligence enterprise, the sense-and-respond organization, the agile enterprise, or the adaptive enterprise.

It is the failed promises that tightly couple SOA, EA, and IT strategies. Effective EA and usable IT strategies are necessary to realize the vision of an SOA. And SOA is the thread that connects this trio and provides the perfect opportunity to realize business value through EA and IT strategies. SOA is the future state for EA and IT strategies. SOA is the end game.

The IT industry is littered with definitions of EA, IT strategies, and SOA, and their definitions morph with each passing day. Everyone agrees that creating and implementing EA or IT strategies or SOA is a good thing for an enterprise. However, understanding and reaching agreement on the utility of an EA, IT strategy, and SOA is more useful than agreeing on the definition.

Utility of Enterprise Architecture
Effective EA is a complete model of the enterprise, a master plan and integrating force that couples business goals with IT assets such as services, applications, databases, platforms, and other technologies to guide IT assets in areas of acquisition, development, deployment, and management. And EA must record both a current view of the business as well as the desired future state to provide for future flexibility.

Successful enterprise architecture maps the design of the enterprise within which systems design, technology infrastructure, or business processes should be considered. Well-designed enterprise architecture should have as one of its primary design goals the flexibility to deal with foreseeable change as well as the capacity to cater to enforceable change. This can only be accomplished when the end state envisioned for the enterprise architecture includes service-oriented computing, that is, SOA as the end state.

The 21st-century enterprise needs to do more than merely reflect IT assets on the balance sheet; it must develop structures and frameworks, strategies and processes for leveraging these assets for competitive advantage. Hence, the enterprise architecture must operate as an ordinance for enterprises that aim to maximize flexibility of their IT assets. SOA is an integral aspect of making this a reality for enterprise architectures.

Vital to the success of software development, enterprise architecture is a key communication tool in the enterprise, and is especially valuable in facilitating communication between the IT function and business unit executives. Enterprise architecture must be a joint initiative between business and IT that enhances their alignment.

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice asks the Cheshire Cat, "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat. Too many IT architects, IT managers, and business unit executives find themselves asking their enterprise architecture board the same question, and, alas, receive the same response. Enterprise architecture must have greater utility and this is facilitated by making the vision of service-oriented computing, SOA, integral in both the vision and governance aspects of the enterprise architecture.

Utility of IT Strategies
It has long been obvious that business strategy must drive IT strategy. IT strategies are useful in identifying business and IT requirements currently and in the future by examining the forces shaping the external environment. This entails using information and related technologies to provide advantage, such as increasing information content in products or increasing information content in value networks, or leveraging technologies to create advantage, new products, or enhancements made possible by emerging technologies or sharing knowledge, technology, and capabilities across business units and partners.

IT strategies are useful in implementing IT capabilities that greatly improve the execution of a business strategy. This is made possible by business unit executives sharing their vision with the IT executives.

Second, IT strategies are not a process, but a journey. The French poet, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, wrote in The Wisdom of the Sands that "as for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it." And the discovery of ways to make a difference in the business strategy using IT capabilities is instrumental to the utility of IT strategies.

The Missing Link
SOA must become part of the fabric of EA and IT strategies. SOA is the missing link that, when widely understood and enabled, will make the next era of IT computing possible. And that next era is service-oriented computing, an emerging approach for how software applications are designed, delivered, and consumed where collaborating business applications distributed within and across organizational boundaries emerge. At the core of this emerging paradigm of service-oriented computing is SOA.

By design, service-oriented architecture expresses computing features as a collection of services. A service is a capability or a business function that can be dynamically discovered and interfaced. They are described externally from the service implementations and are consumable. These services are part of a layer where services are realized through components. Services must support real-world activity. Many organizations that have implemented Web services solutions have realized that the proliferation of these does not an SOA make. Such point-to-point Web services may not be able to participate in a managed-services environment, be composed, or have business utility to the enterprise as they may not represent good business services. SOA allows enterprises to provide their software and information resources as commercially-available and revenue-generating business services.

SOA also addresses modularity, loose coupling, separation of concerns, and composable and single implementation. It is an approach for business-process orchestration of enterprise-level business services using a distributed model comprised of disparate organizational, customer, supplier, and partner systems. SOA is a programming model complete with tools, technologies and guidelines for creating solutions. It is a natural evolutionary step from the object-oriented (OO), procedural, and data-centric approaches adopted for solution implementation until now. In fact, when creating an SOA system, individual services are typically implemented using one or more of these technologies. SOA in essence, is a way of designing software systems to provide services to either end-user applications or other services.

Conclusion
We are at a tipping point in the IT industry. SOA can become a major catalyst for IT effectiveness or be relegated to the IT ghetto where over-hyped technologies, failed promises, and ineffective IT groups reside.

For SOA to be effective we must raise it beyond the narrow view of simply being a style or architectural pattern. Although useful, it is not enough to meet the promises of service-oriented computing that SOA enables or to create the adaptive enterprise, agile organization or intelligent enterprise. We must look ahead to closing the gaps so that IT is ever-more responsive to relentless financial pressures, unpredictable threats, continuous discontinuities, and competitive Darwinism. SOA is the blueprint for service-oriented computing. And service-oriented computing has the potential to bring about faster time-to-market, new revenue sources, lower integration costs, and reduced complexity for organizations.

IT strategies, EA, and SOA are all about the next stage of IT effectiveness. It is an opportunity for IT departments to finally get it right and truly bring about the fusion of business and IT. The challenge ahead is to integrate them into a comprehensive framework which represents a holistic model of the organization. This trio is necessary to bring about the promises of service oriented computing. Because the enterprise which does not have a useful enterprise architecture is like a machine that coasts downhill at the mercy of any bump in the road; the enterprise which does not discover and execute IT strategies is a stalled machine slowly rusting; and the enterprise which has no plans to move toward SOA is already a relic.

The enterprise architecture is often documented using business, system, and technology models. The system and technology models describe various architecture views such as the data or application architecture. These models and views must be revised to represent both a future state and services portfolio view (i.e. SOA service layer) if the enterprise architectures are to have a measurable effect on how the enterprise develops business solutions. The enterprise architecture must do more than define technology standards or document the business as it is today; it must provide a vision of the end state, one that addresses SOA. Getting to this end state requires that enterprise architecture take a prescriptive approach to how business solutions are created. The vision of SOA can only be realized if the enterprise architecture governance board or architecture working group takes an active role in this prescriptive approach.

The role of the enterprise architecture governance body must expand to acknowledge new services as they mature and to classify them as business services or enabling services for the enterprise. SOA provides boundaries in which services that have value for the enterprise can be realized. The enterprise architecture governance body must take an active role in the cataloging of services and maintaining the integrity of this catalog to prevent redundancy and to make sure published services are available to others.

Whether it is lines of business or the enterprise itself that creates business strategy, having corresponding IT strategies is necessary to optimize the business strategy. Strategy is all about implementation. In his article "Strategy as a Revolution" for the Harvard Business Review, Gary Hamel writes that organizations today fail to distinguish planning from strategizing. "Planning is about programming, not discovery. Planning is for technocrats, not dreamers. Giving planners responsibility for creating strategy is like asking a bricklayer to create Michelangelo's Pieta." SOA and service-oriented computing must be a part of IT strategies; it requires dreamers, business executives, IT executives, and architects who see IT not how it is, but how it ought to be. It requires understanding, as Hamel writes, that this is a quest, a journey. While EA, IT strategies, and SOA are powerless against political infighting and the feudal kingdoms that besiege so many companies; uniting this trio lowers the risk of paralysis that comes into play when no one force dominates an organization. The vision of SOA will take some time to be broadly understood, requires strategic thinking, and will take time before it becomes mainstream.

The promises for companies that transform their IT assets to SOA are enormous. Similarly, the promises for companies that adopt and execute Enterprise Architecture (EA) and IT strategies are equally enormous.

Companies who have effective enterprise architectures have seen the promises of EA come to fruition. Companies with effective IT strategies see alignment of business and IT and the capabilities of IT being applied for business advantage. Similarly, companies adopting SOA today see remarkable improvement in the flexibility of their IT assets. The vision and promises of SOA, EA, and IT strategies are remarkably similar. When this trio is combined to create a holistic view, reengineering the business, creating new revenue sources or reducing costs becomes largely a matter of combining existing components in a different fashion, with the creation of new components being an exception. As an industry, this is the journey on which we embark. This is what SOA and service-oriented computing is all about. The time to start this journey - the time to launch your SOA plans - is now!

More Stories By Kerrie Holley

Mr. Kerrie Holley, IBM Fellow, is the Global CTO for Application Innovation Services, responsible for technical leadership in client projects, strategic initiatives, assets, offerings, methods and tools. He is also CTO for IBM’s SOA Center of Excellence. IBM's highest technical honor is the designation of IBM Fellow. IBM’s CEO appointed Kerrie in 2006. Fellows are selected for sustained and distinguished technical achievements in engineering, programming and technology. Since the program began in 1962, only 231 people have been designated IBM Fellows with 69 active. IBM Fellows have invented some of the industry's most useful and profitably applied technologies. Few computer users may realize how much of this group's innovations have created the computer technology we take for granted. Kerrie’s expertise centers around software engineering, software architecture, application development, business architecture, service oriented architecture, cutting-edge distributed solutions. His responsibilities include technical leadership, architectural oversight, and strategy development, consulting and software architecture for a portfolio of projects around the world. Mr. Holley is an author and IBM Master Inventor and holds several patents.

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Most Recent Comments
Sherry Comes 08/19/04 03:29:24 PM EDT

Excellent article! Thanks for sharing.

The points that resonated most with me were the ideas around the fusion of business and IT. I whole heartedly agree that we are at a tipping point in the IT industry and that a critical component of future IT success is being in alignment with business goals and strategies. Therefore, the Author?s quote: "We are at a tipping point in the IT industry. SOA can become a major catalyst for IT effectiveness or be relegated to the IT ghetto where over-hyped technologies, failed promises, and ineffective IT groups reside." hit spot on in my opinion.

I also appreciated the fact that, although the author is obviously very technical, he still says "It has long been obvious that business strategy must drive IT strategy." I wished more technologists would realize this rather than thinking it was the other way around. It is my belief that IT effectiveness would be greatly enhanced if more technologists would try to align with the business and apply our IT skills to reach the business goals.