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It’s still early in 2005 and service-oriented architecture (SOA) is already being positioned to be one of the most talked about terms of the year. Industry pundits have pondered numerous questions and made many predictions. Will it be the year we implement SOA or will it become the most over-hyped term?

I’d like to add one more question to the list. Do customers even want an SOA?

Nearly all conversations about SOAs focus on flexibility, breaking down applications into services, modular, reuse, increased availability and management of services. What does all this really mean? These conversations are often discussed in a vacuum void of any real business problem or opportunity that needs to be addressed. This creates risk that SOAs may evolve into the use of technology for technology’s sake. They slice, they dice, they do anything you need them to do faster, cheaper and more efficient than anything else ever used. The industry is just starting to recover from the downfall created the last time this happened.

I haven’t met with a single customer that said their top business concern is their inability to create services out of applications. What’s missing in these conversations are real business problems customers need to solve today. Telco and wireless service providers worry about customer churn. Pharmaceuticals stay up nights trying to get new drugs that save lives to market faster. Hospitals want patient records kept up to date and available to doctors when needed during emergencies.

A different kind of conversation needs to start. This conversation needs to focus on how solving real business problems is critical to helping customers transform to on demand businesses that can quickly respond to rapidly changing market environments. An SOA can help do this by providing an industry standard framework that is interchangeable, adaptive and flexible, but most importantly is closely linked to the business. The industry standards argument for nearly every other successful use of industry standards also applies to SOAs. Standards make it easier to do business and create efficiencies of scale.

Business leaders who are not aware of the benefits an SOA can provide will likely lose a competitive edge in the marketplace as more nimble competitors take advantage of this new, enabling technology. The business value SOAs provide is so great that analysts predict in just a couple of years enterprises will spend $21 billion on software and services to achieve these benefits.


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