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Looking for SOA Success? Rethink the IT Role

by Puneet Suppal

January 1, 2008

As we move into a more business-process-oriented world, the roles of IT and business on a project need to evolve. See how this development affects process, people, and technology.

A key to service-oriented architecture (SOA) success is addressing any dysfunctional interaction between IT and the business. This should lead to a more regenerative relationship between these groups enabling a healthy business-process focus for the organization. How do you go about achieving this? The solution must be found in the same arena where the problem lies and with reference to the three main forces that exist in such situations: process, people, and technology.

Process Matters: How Important Is It in Your Organization?

To provide an environment where people accept the importance of process, an organization must seek to establish a culture of process excellence. There is talk of how the role of the CIO is evolving into that of a chief process excellence officer. Companies that subscribe to this view are sending a clear signal that they are serious about allowing processes — not a series of IT projects — to drive progress.

Process excellence cannot stop at the boundaries that typically divide organizations into silos. The companies that accept this tend to experience fewer dysfunctions between IT and the business. They see the overlap between the focuses of an IT architect and a business architect. Such businesses need a clear enterprise view of architecture.

The true enterprise architect is one who has conquered the technology-process divide, regardless of whether this person is called an enterprise architect or not. Enterprise architects play a significant role in articulating and propagating such an enterprise view. These are the individuals who extend the bandwidth and reach of process excellence officers.

So, where do organizations find these people?

People: Are You Encouraging the Right Behaviors?

I know successful architects from intensely technical backgrounds who succeed in advising their Fortune 500 clients about the business value of solutions being considered and how business-process improvements would yield significant advantages. Individuals in any IT group should aspire to become such professionals.

Conversely, many individuals might be described as ipso facto technologists — businesspeople who find themselves working so intimately with technology that they actually understand the drivers and enablers better than most. These people can do much of what IT-trained architects can do. Tech-savvy individuals from the business and business-process-oriented technologists are the true business-process experts.

Some people in your company, if appropriately redirected, can adapt and retool to achieve this level of expertise. Most organizations draw true enterprise architects from this pool of business-process experts. To this end, companies need to both encourage a culture of process excellence and put in place the appropriate mechanisms supported by human resource policies.

Business users today tend to be more sophisticated individuals who are increasingly self-service-oriented and better equipped to bridge the process-technology divide — unthinkable just a few years ago. It behooves an organization to encourage these trends and build on them. By fostering an environment that makes some of these activities more mainstream, a company can harness the power of the current revolution.

Being more tech-savvy now, business users should reach out to their IT colleagues, who in turn should be encouraged to engage their business counterparts. Technology must play its role in the organization responsibly, and IT must shift its approach.

Technology: Let’s Rethink the IT Role

Often, we confuse “IT, the corporate function” with “IT, the enabling powerhouse” that all organizations hope to possess. The popularity of Web 2.0 capabilities implies that IT use is growing; however, it’s often in a way that the IT department may not sanction. The potential disruption of unchecked user activity is a legitimate concern. For example, if users work with processes that combine corporate data with external data, the latter becomes a de facto part of the corporation’s dataset, making its officers responsible for the data. In this post-Enron age of increased vigilance over corporate responsibility, this can be a serious matter. Traditional IT worries about whether it should allow business users the freedom they want to drive solutions and whether doing so might open the floodgates of chaotic computing without standards. Should IT clamp down on creativity, or should it find another way forward?

This is where the IT department needs to rethink its role in the organization of the future. If it sheds its legacy mindset, IT can bring order to the situation in a way that brings it closer to the business, reinvigorating its role as a significant enabling force in the company. IT needs to recognize that the new SOA world has more accomplished users and an abundance of solution possibilities outside its traditional domain. Then, IT must seek to adapt its function from the dictatorship of old to being more of an arbiter of sound policy.

IT must demarcate those domains where it needs to have sole jurisdiction (hardware-infrastructure decisions, data-integrity measures, user security, disaster recovery) and, working collaboratively with the business, those areas where the business users can handle their own solutions (defining and implementing analytics, collaborating, personalizing workspace, reusing existing services). IT needs to establish and deploy standards for governance and for developing solutions that form the boundaries for business users: how far they can go in designing and developing solutions to business-process problems. This structure allows business users to blossom to their full potential, while keeping their activity from disrupting the organization. Such an arrangement can do wonders for a company because it lets users experience rich business processes, while freeing up IT to address more strategic issues.

Further, IT can use other developments in SOA. Some exciting approaches consist of providing a layer of server-driven “mashup” capability for organizations that help enable business users to become more self-sufficient. When IT enables such capabilities, it not only lays down the standards and the boundaries within which users must stay, but it also enables the business to use its own technological prowess within business processes more responsibly without being totally dependent on IT. By reinventing itself for the future, IT can — and should — become part of the solution.

Act Now!

Organizations likely to succeed in the quest for a more service-oriented enterprise accept that change is in the near future. Instead of adopting SOA in a “me too” fashion, these companies understand that it’s all about the processes. Focusing on process excellence, they encourage IT to educate itself and its business counterparts so that the two can start speaking the same language. These organizations grasp that if SOA is to succeed, IT must lay the framework and allow business users to stretch to their fullest potential.

Puneet Suppal is a solution architect for Capgemini, specializing in SAP-centric solutions that enable a service-oriented view of the business. Suppal is one of Capgemini’s key evangelists, propagating solutions that recognize the impact of Web 2.0 and the use of innovative approaches to expedite the realization of SOA-based solutions. You may contact him at

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