Ten reasons why people make SOA fail

Service oriented architecture, like so many IT initiatives is struggling to deliver on its promise. Increasingly, 'people' are being blamed. Here's why.

In early July, when vice President and research director Anne Thomas Manes presented at the Burton Group's annual Catalyst conference, she said most SOA failures are due to people and cultural issues more often than for technology issues.

I totally agree with her assessment, as I have been blogging about this same issue for a long time.

So now we know who to blame for failed SOA initiatives. It's the people, stupid! But just why do people make SOA fail? Let me count the ways.

1. They fail to explain SOA's business value.

One of the most common mistakes IT people make is that they approach SOA purely from a technology perspective. They spent a great deal of time and effort on architecture, governance and vendor assessments (which is good), but they forget that SOA needs to solve real business problems.

So they spend a huge amount of time and money building out the architecture-only to find that when they are done, nobody in the business understands the benefits and are not interested in the technology.

Recommendation: Start with real business problems first. This is why BPM ( business process management) is the "killer app" for SOA. BPM solves several business problems by improving and automating business processes. It provides visibility into operational performance, enhances agility by allowing the business to change their processes dynamically without IT involvement, eliminates waste-thus reducing costs-and much more. Start by showing the business how SOA will solve real business problems first. Then address the technology issues.

2. They underestimate the impact of organisational change.

As with any transformational initiative, resistance to change is a project killer. SOA brings massive amounts of change to an organisation, especially if the organisation does not have a well established enterprise architecture in place. Fear of the unknown is the greatest contributor of resistance to change.

People need to understand WIIFM (what's in it for me) and why changing their ways is good for both them and the company. The challenge is people at different levels within the organisation are affected in different ways. Each level of the business has concerns which need to be addressed which must be solved at an individual basis.

Recommendation: Create an organisational change management (OCM) plan. I would go one step further and hire an external OCM expert to help the leadership team of the SOA initiative deal with change. I am a big fan of John Kotter's eight-step methodology.

3. They fail to secure strong executive sponsorship.

Without strong executive sponsorship, it is highly unlikely that your SOA initiative will accomplish its goals. SOA spans multiple departments, multiple systems, and is a major undertaking. You need a strong executive with clout to keep the initiative moving forward and break down the barriers along the way. But clout by itself is not enough. This person also needs to have enough time to focus on the SOA initiative to keep the sense of urgency at a high level.

Recommendation: If your SOA is aligned with key business drivers, the executive sponsor should be a high ranking business person who benefits substantially from the implementation. Let the business own and drive the portfolio of projects that drive the SOA road map. In technology companies, it is highly likely that the CEO, CIO, CTO or Chief Architect is the executive sponsor. Whoever you chose, this person must be able to move mountains and should have a proven track record of successful leadership.

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