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Definitely – everyone will be cutting costs

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Would You like a Side of Mashup with Your SOA?

By Brent Carlson, CTO, LogicLibrary, Inc.

What’s an IT organization to do with Web 2.0? Tools like mashups have the potential to provide great value to enterprises, but if not handled properly, can also tie down strategic initiatives like SOA. Get some insight into how to balance the benefits and risks of the Web 2.0 world within corporate IT by reading this article.

When it comes to dining out, I don’t make my menu decision based on the side dishes available for a particular entrée; instead I look through the list of entrée choices and only when I have made my selection (or at least narrowed my choice down to two or three leading contenders) do I consider whether I want rice pilaf or a baked potato, or soup instead of salad. I strongly suspect that the vast majority of you tackle your restaurant orders in much the same way.

The enterprise IT decision-making process should be viewed similarly, yet often gets twisted by the latest buzzwords and hot technologies; in other words, the side orders of hot technology trends take over the conversation when compared to the main entrées of stable and scalable back-office solutions. While SOA may have been considered a buzzword-centric trend a few years ago, clearly the core concepts behind SOA have matured to the point that it fits into the entrée category in this analogy – something that must be managed strategically and systematically over a period of years to provide maximum benefit to the organization. And while Web 2.0 technologies are certainly generating a lot of hype and buzz these days and have the potential to deliver significant business value to the enterprise through their flexible approaches to rapid application development, they still remain as side dishes to the core meal – items that can enhance the overall IT experience, but cannot provide the backbone for repeatable and scalable business activity.

So what’s an IT organization to do with Web 2.0? Fighting it isn’t the answer, nor is burying your head in the sand and pretending it doesn’t exist. Both of these responses will simply cede control of Web 2.0 technologies to departmental developers, much like what occurred with the quick-and-dirty VB and Excel-based apps of the past and present. And we all know what that means: service calls coming into IT complaining that an app which you know nothing about stopped working because someone in IT made a change to a Web service that you had no idea was being used by a department that you never heard of. So now your SOA is in danger of being held hostage to forces outside of your control – not a good situation. In fact, Dion Hinchcliffe’s recent blog1 on the top ten challenges facing enterprise mashups raises this issue quite coherently, stating ‘If enterprise mashups unleash hundreds of new applications inside an organization, then who will catalog them, support them, maintain them, and fix them when they break?’

A much better answer is to bring these business-oriented mashup developers into the big tent of SOA, encouraging them to participate in the process of defining and prioritizing needed services, and to register their use of services so that IT knows who to contact when rev 2 (or 3, or…) of those services need to be deployed and prior versions retired. Ultimately, this approach will further drive IT towards a true SOA-based portfolio and project management model, where narrowly-focused applications no longer control the funding and staffing agenda, but rather the full set of application needs, both strategic and departmental-based, combine to prioritize the next wave of services to be built out as your SOA matures. As Yefim Natis of Gartner states in his pod cast of October 23, 20072, without this collaborative approach to SOA, enterprises can easily ‘get distracted by things like Web 2.0... AJAX, and the user interface. And it tends to derail the grand plan to things that are more tactical.’

Of course, this is easier said than done – sorting out business priorities and translating them into funded IT projects within an SOA is messy business, and then keeping track of who is using which services is not an easy job. End-to-end governance processes over service production and consumption is required to make this fluid IT environment work, beginning with defining a place where bottom-up project specific service needs can meet and be merged with top-down architectural blueprints, progressing through the actual development and deployment of services in a disciplined manner befitting the strategic nature of SOA to the enterprise, and finally making those provisioned services readily visible, searchable and available to application developers both ‘old-school’ and mashup-oriented. What makes all of this possible on an enterprise scale is a well-defined design-time service registry/repository; one that supports the software development lifecycle through integrations with development tools such as SCM platforms and IDEs, but that also presents a lightweight and easily comprehensible search interface to those departmental business developers who are going to build the next mashup that will transform the enterprise (or at least their little corner of the enterprise). Add to this the ability to automate governance tracking activities on a granular basis – perhaps with a series of well defined gates on the service production side of the equation, but with a ‘one-click’ acquisition and registration approach on the consumption side – and your IT shop has a very real opportunity to both maintain control over strategic development while enabling Web 2.0 activities to flourish within the enterprise. As Natis states in his podcast, SOA done correctly brings the business to a point where ‘as you’re acquiring applications, especially software as a service, what you’re really acquiring is a collection of services. Once you have acquired this collection of services, and you register them in a registry/repository, they become an asset of the entire enterprise. The boundaries of the application are becoming very thin.’ Words to live by in this brave new world of SOA and Web 2.0.


Brent Carlson is Chief Technology Officer and Founder of LogicLibrary, Inc. He has been named to InfoWorld’s Top 25 CTOs in 2005. Brent is a 17-year veteran of IBM, where he served as Lead Architect for the WebSphere Business Components project and held numerous leadership roles on the ‘IBM San Francisco Project.’ He is the co-author of two books – “SanFrancisco Design Patterns: Blueprints for Business Software” (with James Carey and Tim Graser) and “Framework Process Patterns: Lessons Learned Developing Application Frameworks” (with James Carey) and a frequent presenter at industry conferences and regional user groups. Brent holds 16 software patents, with 8 more currently under evaluation. For article feedback, contact Brent at pr@logiclibrary.com 

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