Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Selling SOA by the pound

Steve Jones suggests that SOA needs marketing. Unfortunately, he only mentions one-way communication - from the SOA programme to the business. True marketing involves two-way communication [see post on Marketing] - this entails listening and responding to what the business wants. And that means what a particular business specifically wants, not just vague generalizations like "adaptability" and "customer satisfaction" [see Seth Godin on Business Cliches].

There is some question about the extent to which it is even possible to sell SOA to the business - whether it makes sense to measure the ROI of SOA. Those challenging this include Randy Heffner (via James McGuire) and John Devadoss.

But there is a more fundamental question - does the business need to hear about SOA at all? As Nick Malik asks: When we talk to the business, should we sell SOA? His argument is that good SOA is essentially free, so you shouldn't have to sell it separately. This is what he says in an earlier post, sarcastically titled I want one of those SOA thingamajiggies:
'I’ve decided that the best way to “Sell SOA” to the business is not to sell SOA to the business. Let’s talk about the asthetics, the features, the speed and reliability, the automation of their business processes to allow them to focus and innovate where it counts. Let’s not talk about standard parts.'
Lorraine Lawson disagrees. Summarizing a recent discussion on LinkedIn, she concludes:
'Of course, you shouldn’t start out the conversation by talking about the technical aspects of SOA. Business value is definitely the place to begin. But be prepared to discuss services and explain why SOA is better that EAI or standard development practices — my guess is, there will be questions.'
The claim that SOA is free (under certain initial conditions) echoes the claims of some quality management gurus - notably Philip Crosby - who claimed that quality was free (again under certain initial conditions).

But let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that good quality management, or good SOA, really is free, in the sense that it doesn't add anything to the financial costs associated with certain activities (manufacturing, IT development, whatever). Even if this is true, it doesn't mean we don't have to sell SOA to the business. SOA makes demands on the business - perhaps not financial or technological ones, but demands associated with architecture and governance. For SOA to be successful (let alone "free"), the business may need to consider certain structural opportunities, and to engage with IT requirements in new ways. Even if we don't sell "SOA" to the business, we should still be able to sell "agile enterprise" and the "economics of governance" - not just as vague generalizations but specifically grounded in the needs of a particular business. Because without that connection to the business, SOA will be unable to deliver anything of real value.

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