As I move about the industry talking about APIs (application programming interfaces) and the API economy — which hold important and transformative business opportunities — I’m frequently confronted with disparaging remarks about SOA (service-oriented architecture), as if it’s passé, gone, finito. It’s often in the way of (uninformed) assumptions about SOA. I hear things like, “SOA failed because it was too difficult” or “People do REST APIs now, they don’t do SOA” or other such bunk.
I’ll be the first to extol the importance and benefits of APIs, but the tales of SOA’s failure and demise are simply wrong (I really do like APIs; see this report). I had a powerful reminder of all this while attending IBM’s IMPACT conference this week. First off, I arrived late to one customer’s plain-vanilla “this is our enterprise SOA journey” session only to be refused entry because the room was over capacity. Glancing over the conference program, there were at least eight such sessions representing four continents and at least five vertical industries. I attended five of them and also had lunch with another SOA leader. The stories could all be summarized by the following plot line:
We saw the value in SOA. Whether the need was multichannel customer engagement, faster time-to-market, retiring legacy, getting past complex and costly point-to-point integration, dealing with duplicate applications, or some other business-technology problem, a core team recognized that SOA could make things better.
If your organization is like nearly every other one I've talked to in the past 20+ years, you have a spaghetti chart of integration connections between all the siloed applications that run your business. Your customer is fractured across five applications. Your fulfillment process is broken across eight applications. Just try to pull together the data necessary to tell how profitable one of your products is. Or, as you implement mobile, external APIs, custom B2B connections, and more, how will you provide consistent, coherent access to your transactions and data?
Making sense of all the mess has been an important priority for years. The question is "how?" Forrester's latest research finds that it's time for a new kind of integration strategy. We call it "Digital Business Design":
A business-centered approach to solution architecture, implementation, and integration that brings business and technology design together by placing design priority on user roles, business transactions, processes, canonical information, events, and other business aspects that embody a complete definition of a business.
I'll soon have a client report out with interesting Forrester data about how SOA adoption continued apace during the Great Recession. In the meantime, Forrester partnered with TechTarget on a different SOA survey, primarily to TechTarget's readers, wherein we asked a wider range of SOA questions. The bottom line of all this data is that SOA is alive and well.
SOA's strong health is not a surprise (at least not to Forrester), but something else very interesting came out of the survey. To the question, "What is the most significant challenge you are facing with your SOA project/initiative?" the top response was not really about SOA. Instead, by a 2:1 margin over the next response, the biggest challenge was, "Designing how to do SOA in an integrated way with other initiatives (e.g., BPM, events, BI, rules, etc.)." (I describe this in more detail in a write-up over at SearchSOA.com -- you have to register to read the full article.)
In other words, people are realizing that, in a multi-technology world, siloed approaches to individual technology areas won't cut it. This is the fundamental insight driving Forrester's development of Digital Business Architecture (see Forrester report) and Business Capability Architecture (go to blog post or to another blog post).