This is a guest post from Joe McKendrick of TechRepublic’s sister site ZDNet. You can follow Joe on his ZDNet blog Service Oriented, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

SOA success may be in the eye of the beholder — and that is a factor holding back SOA-based initiatives, Sandy Rogers, analyst with IDC, writes in a new study, underwritten by HP. As Sandy put it: “Individuals shepherding their organizations’ SOA ventures… reported that SOA still is most often perceived by others in their organizations as a technical initiative, especially at the onset.”

CIOs, developers, operations, and business see SOA through different lenses

However, make no mistake about it, SOA proponents see service oriented architecture as a business endeavor, she added. “Influencers understand that overall SOA success requires better business alignment, shared consensus, and deeper levels of participation and as such are particularly focused on driving those dynamics.”

IDC’s study of 109 companies found that 40% of organizations had SOA efforts underway, with another 30% in the planning and pilot stages. This tracks very closely with other surveys from analyst groups, which also find about 70% to 80% of companies are employing SOA methodologies or are considering doing so. Some interpreted lack of growth in planned projects as SOA support wavering, but I see it more as close to saturation point.

SOA may have reached as many organizations as it will likely reach, but is maturing as the preferred approach to enterprise systems development and deployment. In the IDC report, however, Sandy indicates that SOA is now penetrating deeper into the enterprise. As Sandy told ZDNet colleague Dana Gardner in a recent podcast, “As we go to this generation, SOA, in and of itself, is spawning the ability to address new types of models, such as event-based processing, model-based processing, cloud computing, and appliances. We’re really, as a foundation, looking to make a strategic move. …if [organizations] haven’t already adopted SOA, they are planning on it, and at greater levels of engagement. So, if it is not going to be ‘the’ standard for most or all systems, it’s important, and will be used for all new projects, or it’s a preferred approach.”

However, as outlined in the report, Sandy noted that different stakeholders have different perspectives on SOA, and thus, may work at cross-purposes:

“The specific goals, experiences, and perspectives of a CIO may be somewhat different from those of a chief architect and then again of someone in the development ranks or on a quality team,” she said. Chief architects are often most focused on establishing an SOA program and expanding its pervasive use…. Yet, for a developer, SOA success may mean something different, perhaps the ability to achieve one’s project on time or how easy it is to attend to one’s tasks on a day-to-day basis…. Operations staff may be more concerned about guaranteeing service security, availability, and reliability, along with managing the impact on underlying systems.”

Of course, there’s ultimately the business perspective, which addresses capabilities such as more access to information, faster time to market, more collaboration, and more effective integration.

Another issue that hampers SOA-based initiatives is lack of effective governance — early on. “Nearly all those interviewed in our study reported that if they could do one thing differently, they would have started a stronger and more automated SOA governance program earlier,” Sandy wrote in the report. “A few participants highlighted that time spent debating and evaluating SOA technologies could have been much better used in defining standards, policies, and best practices, and then subsequently ensuring that any infrastructure selected would accommodate these concerns.”
Interestingly, some SOA-based efforts may even be too successful early on as well. “Some challenges may arise when attempting to scale out and build greater participation,” Sandy said. “Greater coordination between service providers and consumers needs to be nurtured. Many organizations in our study become, as one interviewee noted, ‘a victim of success,’ as key stakeholders start to ramp up service development and use before any real foundation is laid.”
Sandy also hit upon a point often raised at this blogsite, and that is the inherent challenges in measuring the success of an SOA effort. Beyond the initial and more apparent successes with IT and development streamlining, how much business success can be attributed to the SOA initiative?

“According to IDC research, many IT professionals embarking on SOA programs typically envision their primary benefit to be code and service reuse, whereas those having already implemented SOA to some degree often report the most important capabilities obtained as overall flexibility and ability to respond with solutions faster to market. It is interesting that the former objective is more tactical and technically focused, and the latter more about strategic alignment and support for overall business pursuits. Therefore, approaches taken while adopting SOA may vary and be more or less constrained by individual perceptions. SOA may also be measured along a potentially diverse span of expectations. Nothing is assured, however.”

The takeaway here is that SOA is now well-established as a methodology and practice across a majority of organizations. The key now is to advance SOA practices from that of IT optimization to more of a business transformation initiative.