Does SOA Have an ROI?: Page 2

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A Strategic Bet – Or a Sure Thing

Clearly, the concept of justifying SOA as a necessary strategic move rather than a specific profit generator will be a stretch for some managers.

“Executives are always happier with hard dollar justifications,” Heffner notes. “But executives also make many decisions based on strategic justification.”

In some cases, investing staff time and budget dollars in SOA may be a kind of “strategic bet.” And even the savviest strategic bet may require a leap of faith.

Heffner points to Apple’s decision to invest in the iPod and iTunes. “There came a time when it was a strategic bet. Somebody could have all the data behind them, ‘We think this will sell this much or that.’ But at some point it’s just pure speculation. And they had to say, ‘Here you go – we’re going to do this.’”

On the other hand, in some cases a SOA deployment can indeed be tied to a specific business requirement.

“There’s a logistics firm that I talked to that the core enabler, from a business justification standpoint, for doing SOA was in going to the executive management of the board and saying, ‘The core to our business model is flexibility.'" However, the firm found that its IT infrastructure was not built for flexibility. Therefore, they decided: “We need to restructure around the idea of flexibility. SOA is the key thing that will help us do that.”

This cost justification is probably more straight-forward than that used by many firms mulling a SOA deployment, Heffner notes.

Getting SOA “for Free”

There are some lucky businesses that get SOA “for free.”

These are enterprises who have opted for a vendor, like SAP, who is building SOA capability into its platforms. If that company stays with SAP and upgrades, it will automatically gain SOA functionality – without a lot of hand wringing about justifying the cost.

This doesn’t mean these fortunate firms have utilized SOA to its full potential. “They’ll have SOA infrastructure,” Heffner says. Truly making the most of this capability is another matter.

Still, this “free” method is a good choice. “It’s reasonable if you can get done what you need to for your evolution toward SOA with tools that your vendors provide.”

One Word: Evolution

If Heffner were to sum up the key principles for companies to keep in mind as they adopt SOA, he would use one word: “evolution.”

As firms navigate the myriad challenges of SOA deployment, “Everything comes back to: How are we evolving our applications? How are we evolving our platform? How are we evolving with the market’s maturity to do SOA? How are we evolving with our own maturity, our processes, our governance?”

All these questions don’t need to answered in the initial plan. Instead, it’s “a step at a time, judged by the business value that we accomplish each step of the way.”

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