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Uncle Sean

Uncle Sean

I have no children myself, but I've watched my nieces and nephew grow from newborns to walking, talking, independent individuals over the years. To me, one of the most fascinating parts of watching a child grow is seeing them go from their first tentative, hesitant steps to toddling around, grabbing the furniture at every opportunity but gaining mobility to finally running around and crashing into my legs more often than I care to think about.

We've been speaking about service-oriented architecture here in the magazine for over four years now. In many ways, I've felt like an uncle to SOA as well. In the very beginning, when almost no one had even considered a service-oriented enterprise, we were at the newborn stage - people wondered about XML, WSDL, and UDDI, and how best to create a service.

As an industry we're well past that infant stage and have moved on from crawling to the first hesitant steps. We now have answered many of the initial questions (XML -good, UDDI - nice-to-have but not critical) and have faced the next series of questions in our journey toward SOA adulthood. These questions include things like how to create a transaction, what to do about security, and even to a certain extent how to manage our new world of loosely coupled services.

We've even begun to tackle some more meaty questions as we begin pulling ourselves along the furniture. We know enough to realize that moving to a service-oriented enterprise means not just Web services, but business processes and their management and governance. More important, we have now begun to gain the awareness of the business community that service orientation is as much about changing how we do business as it is about how we do information technology. This is a powerful and sometimes frightening realization.

Some years ago there was a fairly sensational article that posed the question "Does IT matter?" with the somewhat implicit position that in fact it did not - that IT is now commoditized and unworthy of any further investment; there is no competitive advantage to be gained from IT.

I've come to believe that SOA and SOE is an opportunity for IT to once again add value and allow an organization to differentiate itself amidst its competitors. For SOA, while founded on information technology, is truly about business transformation. It is about going from those first baby steps where IT created services just to prove they could to an organization that truly knows its mission and values, and applies them in all of its operations. Without fail, every organization I have worked with that has moved beyond the first simple Web services has discovered what should really come as no surprise - the way we do business, supported by automation, is not fully aligned with the goals of the organization. There are countless reasons why this happens - mergers, software packages that were built as silos - but the bottom line is that a move to SOA is about transformation of the business and fully aligning the services within the organization at a business level.

Of course it's easier to acknowledge this than it is to accomplish it. An organization is not just made up of software; it's made up of people. People have a natural need to organize, as well as a certain resistance to change. Constant change is difficult for many people to accept, regardless of the reality that nothing remains the same for very long. Embarking on a journey that says we're going to change how we do everything -where people sit, who they work for, what they do - is very difficult. It's a constant balance between change and security, providing just enough stability to the organization to ensure that business can be transacted. It's not easy.

But it is necessary. Take it from Uncle Sean, it's time to let go of the furniture and start to walk on our own. Next time we'll talk about the diapers.

More Stories By Sean Rhody

Sean Rhody is the founding-editor (1999) and editor-in-chief of SOA World Magazine. He is a respected industry expert on SOA and Web Services and a consultant with a leading consulting services company. Most recently, Sean served as the tech chair of SOA World Conference & Expo 2007 East.

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