Did someone get fired for buying SOA?

I heard once that someone got fired for buying SOA. Urban myth? yeah, probably, but if anyone that worked for me “bought” SOA I think I would probably fire them too. Why so emotional you must be thinking – get a life!.  Actually, before going into the SOA question specifically, there are many things packaged up in the IT industry that are “for sale” and many more people are “sold” these packages. Did you ever hear the term “shelfware”?  This term is used to describe a piece of software, often very, very expensive software, that was purchased by an organisation but never deployed into production – in other words it was left “on the shelf”.  This is a pretty bad situation for the customers and suppliers to be in and I have even heard sales people tell excitable stories about how they have closed a big deal that just ended up being shelfware. The excitement comes from the fact that the vendor received all of the money for the software but suffered none of the headaches that can be associated with implementation or deployment.  Deplorable and downright dishonest behaviour but the software business can really be like that.

So, why not buy SOA, it sounds very useful and could revolutionize my company’s business systems.  Well here is the thing, SOA is not something you can actually buy, it’s a principle, I say again, it’s a PRINCIPLE.  just for clarification, A PRINCIPLE is a law or rule that has to be, or usually is to be followed, or can be desirably followed (thank you Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle).  Think of it this way, imagine for a moment walking into a surgery saying to a consultant “how much will it cost to make me honest?”, that would be silly right?  You can not buy a principle, you principles are part of you, your personal DNA, a definition of who you are, and on a personal level most people understand this. Businesses have principles too and sadly, in business some people are vulnerable to persuasion – there are always people who will sell you something you desire. It’s funny, when I used the analogy of honesty I thought I would Google to see if anyone is willing to sell me some “honesty” and sure enough, in less than a minute I found this site: http://www.free-hypnosis-mp3-downloads.com/product.php?productid=23.  I am not going to make any judgements about what this site offers for $39.90, if it has value or if it will work, I will leave you to draw your own conclusions – hopefully though can see my point.  Buying (or being convinced to  buy) SOA is the IT systems equivalent of doing just that!.

The problem is, just like the honesty peddlers that exist in the world, there are companies that will “sell” you SOA, that’s right, for a mere $Xm you can buy the SOA principle from a vendor and transform your business systems – and if you want to believe that, go ahead and Google SOA and you will find plenty of willing SOA peddlers.

SOA has had a lot of bad (and good) press, have a look at this entertaining site (http://soafacts.com/), it shows just how anti-SOA some views are, this is the cynical end of SOA and many of the points in here could easily have been written by people who got fired for purchasing SOA.  Actually, the situation is a lot better now than it was five years ago because many more people understand that SOA is just a set of principles and not a product – in other words SOA is something you do and not something you buy.

I am a fan of SOA principles, but don’t much like the prescription of technology standards to deliver these principles upon, so here is my attempt to provide a more positive outlook on SOA facts (in the context of SOA being a set of principles only): –

  • Loose coupling for system design is flexible and powerful, this works at all levels of a system.
  • SOA principles have nothing to do with technology standards. Unlike some vendors would have you believe, SOA and SOAP for example are not synonymous, it just so happens that SOAP (which is a standard and not a principle), like numerous other standards are useful in building service oriented systems. Service orientation is one of the key principles of SOA.
  • SOA is not an all or nothing, pick from it the principles within which your systems are designed
  • SOA principles are really targeted at systems designers, architects and software developers and not aimed at business people as some assume. Instead, the systems that are built on SOA principles put the business people back in control of their own systems because they are easier at understand at a high level.
  • SOA is only a name, the principles of SOA existed well before SOA was coined as a name.
  • SOA was born as a way of describing specific technology standards in a business context. However, SOA has evolved to become a term that describes the principles, with the specific technology standards being disconnected from the principles – at least for those of us that truly understand that one can not purchase SOA

SOA is not the perfect set of principles for every situation, you have to be able to pick and choose which principles you apply.  I would use the analogy of religion – as a general rule religion is a good positive thing for society, it helps with social order, community and leadership but taken to an extreme can lead to radical views and totally unacceptable behaviour by often vulnerable people that follow extreme interpretations of those principles and beliefs. I suppose now I think about it, you could look at buying a global SOA solution from a single vendor as an indoctrination into a cult.

I really feel the need to go into the detail of SOA right now but I am conscious of the fact that I have already written more than enough to bore most readers, so instead if you do want to know more, there is a good explanation of SOA on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Service-oriented_architecture

Just to sum up – take look at the principles of SOA, if you like the idea of them and can see how to use them to the advantage of yourself or your organisation, adopt the principles and start using them in your designs – you don’t need to go to your boss and get sign-off for a SOA project, your boss won’t even know or care – but when the systems start to deliver real value and results, then your boss will start to care because he will feel compelled to go to his boss to get sign-off for a pay rise and a bonus for you as a reward for the magic you are able to do – just believe! And even if that does not happen – at least you will end up with a flexible and adaptable system.

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  1. They should be fired if they try to sell it as technology. I have heard a lot of key words used at meetings about technology and it is clear that that the speaker just read a marketing brochure.

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