SOA spend up despite unclear benefits

By Galen Gruman, InfoWorld |  SOA, agility, investing

The number of companies investing in service-oriented architecture (SOA) has doubled over the past year in every part of the world, with a typical annual spend of nearly US$1.4 million, according to a new research report from the analyst firm AMR Research that surveyed 405 companies in the U.S., Germany and China.

And SOA is used in a variety of industries 59 percent of retailers have actually used SOA in at least one project, as have 58 percent of distributors, 54 percent of telecoms, and 42 percent of financial services firms. Financial services spend the most on SOA; 63 percent spend more than $1 million, followed by retail with 30 percent spending at least $1 million.

That's the good news.

A mishmash of benefits drives SOA but could slow broad adoption

Now the bad news: "Hundreds of millions of dollars will be invested pursuing these markets in 2008, much of it wasted," said AMR analyst Ian Findley.

The AMR survey found that most companies don't really know why they are investing in SOA, which Findley said makes long-term commitment iffy. Often, there are multiple reasons cited within any organization, letting SOA appear as a buzzword justification for unrelated individual priorities. "People more easily rally around a thing rather than five things," Findley said. That lack of a rallying purpose for SOA calls its momentum into question, he added.

AMR's survey shows the diversity of motivators for SOA investments 16 percent do so to build IT skills in an important new technology area, 18 percent because they believe SOA is the best technology to meet requirements of an individual project, 17 percent do so to reduce IT costs through reuse, 22 percent use SOA to change systems faster, more cheaply, and with less risk, and 14 percent use SOA to modernize their system architecture.

But Findley is concerned that SOA may not get picked up much beyond the early adopters -- mainly financial services, telecommunications, and government organizations that are more often than not predisposed to the value of architecture and thus more willing to pursue SOA for less-quantifiable benefits -- unless a coherent set of benefits is made clear. (Retailers are also early adopters, though mainly as an integration mechanism, not as much for new initiatives, he noted.)

"If we can crystallize the key benefits, other people may follow on," he said. Because SOA affects multiple parts of an organization, Findley said that the specific benefits will be different for the CFO, CIO, software developer, and business unit managers. "There doesn't need to be one common benefit,
but these individual benefits should be interlinked," he recommended.

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