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SOA projects fail to deliver as expected

Nearly two-thirds of service-oriented architecture (SOA) projects fail to bring ROI, according to Nucleus Research. Experts say SOA works, but enterprises need to take a better approach to adoption.

Most service-oriented architecture (SOA) projects fail to deliver ROI, according to a new report from Nucleus Research Inc.

Nucleus Research surveyed 106 organizations and found that only 37% of SOA projects demonstrated ROI.

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 "People do succeed some of the time in getting benefits from SOA in the form of improved developer productivity," said David O'Connell, senior analyst at the Wellesley, Mass.-based research firm. "What we found, though, was that adoption tended to be somewhat narrow. People tend to get into SOA in an ad hoc or departmental basis."

O'Connell said adoption of SOA tends to get "stranded." He said a major value of SOA projects is the concept of reuse. In SOA, developers create software that performs general functions or "services" that can work in different business contexts. These services can be strung together in an architecture to perform business processes. A major advantage of such architecture is that many of the software services can be reused, saving time and resources and speeding deployment in application development.

O'Connell said organizations often fail to delve deeply enough with their SOA adoption. They will see some benefits in the form of improved productivity for software developers and testers, but adoption of this reusable software isn't broad enough. For instance, developer productivity increased by an average of 28% in the Nucleus Research survey.

But companies don't go deep enough with the technology. O'Connell found that SOA touches only 27% of current IT projects in the average organization. And only 32% of published software services get reused.

Jeff Kristick, vice president of marketing at Tibco Software Inc., a Palo Alto, Calif.-based vendor of SOA software and consulting services, said it was possible that many of the organizations surveyed by Nucleus are on their way toward an ROI. They just haven't reached it yet.

"It would be interesting to overlay the maturity of projects in this survey," Kristick said. "I think the companies that have positive returns have higher numbers of projects."

Kristick pointed out that companies often don't see a return on their first couple of SOA projects. It's only after several projects are in place and companies are reusing software code that it truly starts to see positive results.

O'Connell said Kristick's point is valid, but he added that something else is at work here.

"You'll be lucky to get ROI on the first couple projects," he said. "You have got to do a few projects to get a positive return. However, SOA has been around for a while, and I think the lack of ROI has more to do with a lack of breadth rather than a lack of projects."

Organizations fail to get that breadth of adoption because they fail to broadcast the advantages of SOA reuse internally. O'Connell said too many organizations fail to have an internal champion to push the reuse of software services.

"It's something we emphasize," Kristick said. "How to promote reuse and to encourage developers to think outside the project they're working on and the service they're creating. We talk to our customers a lot about that and how people underestimate that."

Many companies invest in registries and repositories where developers can find software services that can be reused. But these applications aren't enough to guarantee reuse. Human resources departments should enact policies that require developers to adopt it.

But O'Connell said it's most important that these companies have someone championing SOA projects internally.

At Con-Way Inc., a $4.2 billion freight and logistics company based in San Mateo, Calif., that champion is lead enterprise architect Maja Tibbling.

"It's absolutely necessary that senior IT executive management be on board," Tibbling said. "If it isn't approached from an architectural perspective it won't be successful. Just doing random and spotty hit-and-miss SOA doesn't give any value."

She said a company needs an evangelist for SOA.

"People can talk about governance all they want," Tibbling said. "They can have a wonderful repository sitting there, but if no one knows to look there they're not going to find it. You have to get the word out in touting the benefits of SOA and making it known what there is to reuse.

You'll be lucky to get ROI on the first couple projects.
David O'Connell
senior analystNucleus Research Inc.

 "The key is that services need to be built in such a way that they can get leveraged in different contexts, and that you provide an agile platform for business processes," she said.

Tibbling, who has been working with SOA since 1995, said she's in the process of extending the technology from Con-Way's freight division to the entire enterprise. She said the biggest barrier to adoption she hears about within her company is understanding reuse.

"I hear people say, 'We don't have time to consider other uses [of services],'" Tibbling said. The key is to build software services that are general enough that reuse is easier to achieve, but not so general as to make them useless.

Tibbling said many developers are often resistant to SOA because they feel it isn't agile enough. She said it stops them from "just getting things done" because they have to spend time thinking about separating functions in services and building a rigorous architecture.


Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer

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