Thursday, May 17, 2007

SOA without IT governance = good luck

Before getting into my post, I wanted to mention an interview I read in this month's Wired with Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. I want to share with you a small excerpt:

Wired: Google’s revenue and employee head count have tripled in the last two years. How do you keep from becoming too bureaucratic or too chaotic?

Schmidt: It’s a constant problem. We analyze this every day, and our conclusion is that the best model is still small teams running as fast as they can and tolerating a certain lack of cohesion. Attempting to provide too much order dries out the creativity. What’s needed in a properly functioning corporation is a balance between creativity and order.
But we’ve reined in certain things. For example, we don’t tolerate the kind of “Hey, I want to have my own database and have a good time” behavior that was effective for us in the past.

Very interesting... Of all the examples the CEO of Google could come up with in terms of governance, is basically data governance. I think this is an excellent thing to mention when developers get in a hissy about how they're using data. Even the almighty Google adheres to a data governance policy, and the CEO is 100% supportive. Which leads into my blog post, about maintaining SOA services. Something tells me that Google probably does a decent job of governing their web services.

Now onto my point...

The SOA revolution is on in full force. It's the shiniest silver bullet to come around in a long time, and to be sure it has some real benefits that cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, I will be surprised if any companies out there that don't already have a strong IT governance in place will be able to succeed in achieving their desired ROIs. Of course slick new technology doesn't need a business case, as most CIOs are shamed into implementing a SOA program even if there is no specific need - it simply becomes "commons sense".

Before launching into my critique I must point out that I am a huge supporter of the SOA approach. Web services, like those offered by Google,, Yahoo!, eBay, and others(check out: for a comprehensive directory of web services) are without a doubt a standard that's here to stay. Developing future applications using a SOA model clearly makes a lot of sense.

From a corporate IT perspecitve, the SOA value proposition is two-fold: First it allows for re-usability like never before. In this respect, SOA's direct antecedent is software components (e.g. COM components, or EJBs); Second, SOA makes building distributed systems a whole lot easier. In this respect SOA's direct antecedant is a mishmash of all sorts of technology (e.g. message passing, RPC [which ODBC uses], store-and-forward, etc.).

Now here's the rub. If you're going to switch to building things using a SOA approach, you're probably just going to start building services for new applications. Those applications in turn will be funded by projects, which will be managed by a project managers' whose responsibilities are to the success of the project, and not for the success of IT infrastructure. As the PMI likes to remind us: "Never goldplate". Full disclosure: I am PMI certified. Okay, so what does this mean? This means that while it is possible to build re-usable services. In all likelihood, they will be built for a specific application. Fair enough, when the next project that comes around that needs something slightly differently, we can just extend those services, while at the same time extending the value of those services. Not so fast! The project manager on the second project will likely have to decide: Is it cheaper to extend a live service, or just take the original source code, and extend that instead, creating a brand-new service that is all but identical to the original service. Well, in spite of all the best intensions, most PMs will quickly cost out the price to regression test the current application(s) using the existing interface (not to mention the logistical headache) and will take the path of least resistance by building a nearly identical new service interface. Eventually over time what you get is a balkanized set of services which IT will constantly talk about "re-factoring" or "consolidating", but in reality there's very little discretionary money to complete a major project like that. Instead, what will happen is there will be some kind of required change that will impact all services. At that point IT will have to decide whether or not to consolidate or fix each one-by-one. More often than not, it will be the one-by-one fix that you will see. The costs of fixing each of these services will greatly outweigh the original investments to consolidate services, but it will just be a constant headache that cannot be solved without a major infrastructure overhaul which some IT disaster may eventually justify.

You will of course point out that this type of IT sprawl is really just a lack of IT governance. Of course it is lack of governance. The point is: The discipline required to manage the reusability of web services is no different than the discipline to manage the reusability of data, which in turn requires metadata management, which in turn requires solid data governance, which in turn requires solid IT governance.

To sum up: Implementing a SOA strategy, without any success managing data [and hence metadata], is like boarding a ship with an incompetent navigator. Will you get to your destination? Sure, but it'll take you a lot longer, and cost you a lot more.

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