I am about to embark on a trip tonight to Australia. My first time. I will be speaking at HP’s Asian Software Universe conference. The first one since the newly constituted software group that now includes Mercury Interactive. There is clearly reviewed energy and excitement around the HP’s software organization these days. It will be interesting to watch the new strategy unfold that brings together HP’s traditional strengths in network and systems management with the Business Technology Optimization, and quality portfolio from Mercury. The combined strategy definitely has potential – especially now that the company is moving quickly into the business intelligence market with its NeoView data warehousing platform, its KnightsBridge consulting organization and a bunch of acquisitioning in the data management area that we expect to happen within the coming year. But more about that after I return.
An Encounter with Enterprise Architects and the SOA Journey
I have been on the road quite a bit lately (including a brief vacation with my husband to Puerto Rico). Last Wednesday night I spent several hours with a group of enterprise architects outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The talk was part of a forum sponsored by SOA integrator and consulting firm, LiquidHub. While I enjoy presenting, I really enjoy the interactions with smart people. With a group of architects you might expect that the conversation would get really technical and get into a focus on interfaces and which enterprise service bus is the most fun to work with. To my surprise, and delight, the conversation focused on the cultural issues of moving organizations away from their traditional mode of fighting fires and political battles to thinking about a different approach to building value. The issues that these companies are grappling with are universal to early adopters. First, how do you get upper management to understand that moving to a service oriented approach to development is something that benefits the business? In fact, these architects are facing a two front war! While they are trying to get the attention of upper management (who tends to think that this is just another wild plan to spend money); they are struggling to get their development organization to think differently about software development. Is there enough time between upgrading to the latest rev of the database and the operating system, or the ERP system to think about writing business services? On the other hand, developers who are starting to think about SOA want to get started by coding. The real world is just not that easy.
Can business management understand the value of SOA?
I’d love to say, just do it (but that only happens in the movies). The reality is that you need to start by demonstrating to management that SOA is, in fact, a business strategy supported by technology. I used the following analogy with this group. Imagine starting a new division of your company. Clearly, management will need to do some hiring and provide accounting practices. In the old days, that organization would hire its own human resources team and group of accountants that would focus all of their energy on customizing business practices on the needs of that business organization. Today things are very different. Today, there is a human resources department that has organized itself to meet the needs of a variety of different departments. They clearly will employ specialists that will understand some of the specialized needs of some of the departments. The human resources and the accounting departments are service organizations that support all departments within the company. Today, there are no arguments about how the company should pay for HR or accounting – they are shared services that everyone supports. The alternative – direct ownership of these functions would be much too expensive. This will be the way SOA service development evolves. It should be an interesting journey.
Assembling the pieces of SOA – is it really child’s play?
One more thing before I get on the plane to Australia…I have been thinking a lot about the problem companies face in implementing SOA. Here is the analogy I have been using lately. Imagine that you are a parent and just bought a present for your kid. You pick up the box that has a picture of the toy. It is exactly what your child has been begging for all month. You get it home and everyone is excited. You open the box and you are faced with hundreds of parts of all sizes and shapes. In addition, there is a 50-page manual that gives you directions about how to assemble the toy. After the first 20 hours the floor is filled with the pieces in various stages of assembly. Your kid is crying and you are no closer to the picture on the front of the box. I think this is what many IT organizations are contemplating when they imagine getting started with SOA. I am waiting for the vendors in this market to stop making and selling kits and start selling products.