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The Dark Side Of SOA

Building a service-oriented architecture is harder and takes more time and money than expected, but businesses aren't giving up on the effort, according to a survey by InformationWeek Research.

As CEO of Primitive Logic, a San Francisco Web services consulting company, Bob Hamer has seen a fair amount of botched work lately. He met last month with two top execs at a multibillion-dollar company that had created two collections of Web services code that did the same thing. Another client had a big IT project in which a vendor sent in lots of software experts but didn't talk to the businesspeople who ultimately had to use the stuff. Then there are the companies that spend several months evaluating products for features and price, wasting time that could be spent on programming.

It's the little-discussed dark side of the promising market for service-oriented architectures. "No one's trying to go out and screw this up--everyone's trying to do it right," Hamer says. But "until this year, I haven't heard a businessperson use the term 'SOA.'"

When it comes to Web services, striking the right balance between what business units need and what IT departments deliver is difficult. According to an InformationWeek Research Web survey of 273 business-tech pros last month, 24% of respondents using SOA and Web services say the projects fell short of expectations. Of those, 55% say SOA projects introduced more complexity into their IT environments, and 41% say they cost more than expected. Out of all respondents using SOAs and Web services, just 7% say the results exceeded expectations.

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"Where I've seen great technology projects fail is when business doesn't see it as important," says Terri Schoenrock, Hewlett-Packard's executive director of SOA. More than a quarter of SOA projects she's seen have fallen short of expectations. "And it's usually about business and IT alignment problems."

The Right Tools

As Web services projects move out of pilots and small departmental efforts, making them work is becoming more important. Managing Web services and making sure they meet cost, business process, and integration goals is challenging enough with early-stage projects that consist of a few dozen software components. As companies' code bases reach hundreds or thousands of components slated for reuse, and Web services extend beyond company walls, having the right tools to manage them is critical. Technology companies, including BEA Systems, HP, and IBM, are trying to met the need here, making acquisitions intended to shore up their software products with technology that can produce and enforce hard and fast rules about which services have access to which data and business logic. The hope is that assembling data repositories filled with software components and rules that govern their use will encourage adoption. Vendors also are encouraging customers to pay more attention to cultural aspects of SOA projects, such as getting business managers to set clear objectives for return on investment.

Complexity ConundrumIBM last month said it would buy privately held Webify Solutions, which has a catalog of software components that can help companies standardize processes such as insurance claims processing, order placing, and compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Webify, which has operations in Austin, Texas, and Mumbai, India, helps insurance and health care companies use Web services to share data among computer systems. IBM also plans to use Webify's library of Web services in a new SOA software development unit in Bangalore, India.

HP in July said it would buy Mercury Interactive, a software company whose products help companies manage software development projects, for $4.5 billion. Mercury in January had bought Systinet, a maker of registry and repository software for Web services. BEA Systems last month bought software company Flashline, which makes a metadata repository that will become part of BEA's AcquaLogic line of products. And webMethods acquired nearly all the assets of Cerebra, including its metadata repository, and plans to incorporate the technology into a future release.

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