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In talking to many senior IT executives, whenever the topic of SOA is mentioned they invariable complain of two things. The first is that all the vendors are doing SOA--but all in different ways, making it difficult to mix and match. The second is that getting business buy-in to SOA from business managers is even harder than trying to wrestle their 'Crackberries' from them.
The problem is that without business buy-in, SOA cannot deliver its fabled benefits to the organization--Agility, Growth, Innovation. It is certainly still possible to gain IT-specific benefits. Insurance company Standard Life in the UK has demonstrated cost savings of over $10M/annum through their move to SOA for their core applications. However, many IT shops find that the cost of tooling up for SOA can be prohibitive--spending to save is fine if the cash is there in the first place.
So for most organizations, the funding for SOA has to come from business projects rather than infrastructure budgets. Finding the right projects to fund the tooling and changes required to do justice to SOA can be tricky. For those tempted to go to the business and explain SOA to them to free up some cash, here is my word of advice--don't mention SOA! My experience is that you need to split the exercise into three parts:
1. What do you sell?
2. To whom do you sell?
3. How do you sell SOA?
What you should be selling is business improvement couched in the language used by your sponsors (growth, profit, time to market). Depending on the problem that the executive you are dealing with has, you should ensure that you promote the business benefits appropriate to them. It is likely that in today's economic climate their emphasis will either be on cost-cutting/survival or growth/innovation. Or both. Make sure that your pitch covers whichever of these is relevant.
Who you sell to is not obvious either. Typically I have seen board-level presentations on SOA, but not much engagement seems to take place with the rest of the business. Again my experience is that although the CEO and the main board need to agree to the big picture you are painting, you will need to engage with several different levels in the organization to ensure that SOA is successfully sponsored and adopted. The CEO is unlikely to give you enough time to consider fully what you are saying. The CEO will therefore rely on Main Board recommendation. The Main Board will be looking at the risks involved in any proposed changes, and will rely on their Line Managers to reassure them as to the dangers as well as possible upside. The Line Managers in turn are worried about hitting their targets and won't want any disruption to their Staff that could affect their performance (i.e. bonuses). The Staff usually just want an easy life, with clear processes and procedures, and systems that support the way they want to work. For an SOA strategy to make it to SOA practice, you will need the support of all these stakeholders.
So how do you sell SOA? You will need to pitch the message in different ways for each audience mentioned above. The CEO needs to be shown concrete examples from similar organizations of how SOA will support corporate growth and/or cost-savings targets. The Main Board need to be taken through tailored Business Value Assessments that quantify the impact of your architecture on their department's performance. The Line Managers and Staff should be convinced using a Proof of Concept approach that takes one of their problem areas and solves it using SOA concepts and tools. I will cover how Running Effective Proofs of Concepts in my next article.
I am not saying that you cannot or should not try to discuss SOA with your sponsors--more communication is definitely the best way. What you need to do is find the right model for engagement. In a meeting recently with a CEO and CIO of a European Investment Management company, the CIO did the classic SOA pitch (re-use, separation of concerns, interoperability, legacy modernization, etc.) which left the CEO cold. Within half an hour of explaining how a process-driven approach to business change could provide a better and quicker delivery of corporate strategy the CEO understood how this would help him manage an upcoming merger, and wanted to discuss when we could start. What I hadn't known then was that the CIO had spent six months trying to pitch SOA to his boss, without success.
Why is it so difficult to sell SOA? One reason I have found is that the selling skills required are straightforward to a professional salesman, but not second nature to most IT people I have come across. This is changing and there is more emphasis on communication skills for senior IT executives. The other main reason is that the technical elegance of SOA is lost on busy executives who are only interested in the result not the journey to get there. So, how are we going to sell SOA to the business? Don't mention the SOA.
About the Author: John is currently Head of Business Consulting at Alphacourt Limited. Prior to Alphacourt has worked for Gartner, along with several other IT and business consultancies. John has been presenting on application development and business process improvement for over 20 years, most recently focusing on making BPM and SOA work for organizations.
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