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It is common for small and midsize business to wait out technology bubbles. If a hot new technology bursts onto the scene, the SMBs don’t immediately adopt it. Expensive and unproven technologies aren’t usually their cup of tea. It’s a sensible approach that keeps IT from being too much of a cost center for users who don’t have a ton of cash to spare.
Yet, as we all repeatedly hear, service-oriented architecture isn’t a technology. Rather it’s an approach to using technology and, like Jennifer Lopez’s love, that don’t cost a thing. Service orientation is an approach toward business that has been around for decades and embodied in things like ITIL. Enterprise architecture is a discipline. On the face of it, SOA requires nothing an SMB can’t do.
A while back, I spoke with Sandy Carter, IBM’s vice president for SOA and WebSphere strategy, about SMB adoption and she noted that three quarters of mid-market companies are using Web services and that “I’ve never seen this fast of an uptick for a technology in the SMB customer base.”
Carter then caught herself and added, “Well, we don’t consider SOA just a technology and maybe that’s the reason for the uptick.”
She noted that service orientation was allowing SMBs to create value added services and to connect to larger trading partners and markets with a minimum of custom work involved. The thing those sorts of projects have in common is they’re revenue generators. Carter said that while larger companies are often focused on cost cutting (viewing IT as a cost center), SMBs who’ve entered the arena seem to view SOA as a way of running IT as a profit center.
Ask anyone what the ideal startup project for an SOA should be and you’ll almost invariably hear the answer that it should be tied to a revenue stream in order to provide the necessary ROI for the work involved. It should be the first step in a strategic plan, but tied to a tactical business opportunity. Could it be that SMB’s fundamentally understand SOA better than some of their supersized counterparts?
Carter pointed to some other advantages SMBs might have in this area.
- “Because there are fewer business and IT people involved, they can align faster. Often the CFO has business and IT reporting directly.”
- “Big companies have significant governance issues. SMBs can be focused on targeted processes, not fixing overall categories.”
- “In a smaller business, people often wear multiple hats. They have a broader view of the business than just what they do.”
Gary Grandlienard, director of enterprise architecture for Railinc Corp., a $51 million rail industry information services business based in Cary, N.C., agreed with Carter’s take that SMBs have decided advantages over large companies when it comes to SOA.
- “I’m able to work directly with the project teams and that ensures there’s consistency in the tools they’re using.”
- “It’s a lot easier to educate everyone involved, executives and developers, about what we’re trying to achieve with SOA. It’s much easier for us to communicate with one another.”
- “A lot of our apps were using the same information, but we were still building stovepipes. The truth is we’re too small to not be sharing this information across our application portfolio. The problem isn’t so big that we can’t get our arms around it.”
- “One of the reasons we’ve been able to sell SOA is because it’s part of our data quality initiative. It’s tied to our core business.”
- “We meet weekly with our application architects to make sure they think interface first. We can do follow up at the enterprise level.”
Smaller scale has its advantages, particularly when it comes to governance. The enterprise architect can work directly with the project teams and report directly to the executives. While a lot of SMBs may lack the confidence to try a full bore SOA implementation, here’s a guess that in the coming years many of the leading SOA success stories will be coming from the SMB ranks. They can best see a targeted three- or five-year plan through to the end and they’ll probably realize SOA-related gains the quickest. In fact, expect a lot of larger companies to look at those SMB case studies and ask, “I wonder if that would scale for us?”
Michael Meehan, Site Editor, SearchSOA.com