A clear sign that SOA is facing up to the need to deliver business results comes in the release this month of the so-called SOA Maturity Model by a small team of SOA suppliers.
Developed by Sonic Software, Systinet, AmberPoint and BearingPoint, the Maturity Model is currently touring North America in a seminar series, and will be released to the public as a white paper on October 27th.
It's a timely attempt to help people figure out where they are in their SOA strategies and how to get to the next stage. There's plenty of evidence around now that enterprises have started adopting web services and are persuaded of the need for SOA. But there's a lot of uncertainty about how to move on from there, as well as how to translate the concept of SOA into tangible business benefits that will sell the concept to decision makers outside the IT department.
So what are the five layers, and at what stage are the majority of customers?
Initial Services form the base layer. This is the classic first-level adoption of point-to-point web services integration as a means of testing out the technology and starting to understand what it can do.
Architected Services take over when IT decides to get a grip on the emerging services infrastructure and impose an architectural framework that offers some consistency and reliability when bringing services together.
The next layer is segmented into internal-facing Business Services and external-facing Collaborative Services. This is the point when SOA breaks out above the IT and applications infrastructure and becomes visible in the form of service-enabled business processes.
Measured Business Services refers to what happens when the services created in the previous layer are monitored and analyzed to see how they and the business processes they power are performing.
Optimized Business Services are the final result of feeding back the monitoring and analysis of level four to make improvements to the business services themselves. Rather than an end destination, this becomes an ongoing continuous cycle.
All of this makes excellent sense and provides a clear vision of the ulimate objective, although it seems to me that at present we're still viewing the higher levels at something of a distance. When we get closer to actually being able to implement level five, we may well find that it consists of several more separate layers. But that's always the nature of roadmaps of this type.
In the past few weeks, I've made a point of going round asking each of the vendors where they believe most of their customers are. Somewhere between levels one and three is the answer that comes back. Prospective customers are mostly at level one "developers and architects getting their feet wet with building services," said Sonic's Dave Chappell, with less than ten percent at level two. But customers who have already deployed the vendors' products are further forward (as indeed one would hope, if the products are any good). "Customers using the ESB, most of them are up to level two and into the levels of three," said Chappell. Only a handful are seen as being at level four or above.
With the majority of their established customers sitting on the cusp of level 3, you can see why the vendors need the Maturity Model. Says Systinet's VP marketing Tim Dempsey: "There is a great deal of interest but also a great deal of confusion about how to transform a complex organization to embrace and operate under the principles of a service-oriented architecture." That confusion naturally engenders hesitation, not because customers don't accept the inevitability of SOA, but simply because they have no clear view how to progress creating delays in further deployments of the technology, which hits vendor sales. "The big challenge is, how can we accelerate adoption?" says Dempsey.
Or as Dave Chappell says: "This whole maturity model is about providing a framework for discussion that allows IT to communicate with the business and to be able to articulate to others in the organization where they are with their SOA strategy and help create a vision of where they want to get to."
In plain English, what these vendors are saying is that once IT has finished messing about with web services and has started to establish a framework for SOA, the next step is to engage the business and start discussing how the technology can be harnessed to deliver business results. As the upper layers of the Maturity Model make clear, there's no going back once that threshold has been crossed. The continuous monitoring, feedback and optimization envisaged in levels four and five imply much closer lines of communication between business and IT than have previously been the norm. Implementing a mature SOA is going to take organizational maturity too.