How to Build a Recession-Proof SOA Strategy

The current economic crisis is affecting both IT spending today and budgets for 2009. Often viewed as a major cost center, IT becomes one of the first areas where senior management looks to make cuts when times are tight. Here, Knowledge Center contributor Ross Mason explains how to build a recession-proof, service-oriented architecture strategy.


IT managers are now faced with the proverbial task of "doing more with less." When faced with an edict "from above" to cut unnecessary costs and prepare for nuclear winter, the natural instinct is to eliminate all new projects and focus on rationalizing and maintaining existing infrastructure. However, in a world where IT holds an increasingly critical place at the core of the enterprise, this "doing less with less" approach is counterproductive-and can spell eventual doom.

If simply eliminating projects across the board doesn't make sense, what are some approaches that IT managers can take to help their businesses gain critical competitive advantage, even amidst a shrinking budget environment? Consider existing service-oriented architecture, or SOA, projects. If the SOA initiative was originally put into place for valid business reasons (for example, improved agility, increased visibility across business silos or operational efficiency through integration), then pulling back from that initiative would damage the business in kind.
Fortunately, the available tools and approaches have evolved dramatically in the past few years. SOA no longer represents the high-investment/high-risk undertaking that early adopters once faced. In many cases, overwrought standards (for example, SOAP/WS-*) and complex, heavyweight infrastructure software are being replaced by simplified approaches (for example, representational state transfer, or REST) and lightweight, open-source tools.

This means that organizations can learn from the mistakes of the early adopters, pursuing SOA in a much more pragmatic, needs-driven fashion. SOA as a top-down initiative for its own sake is unequivocally "out," as organizations can't afford to rearchitect everything from scratch in these lean times. Instead, today's successful SOA projects will take advantage of new tools and techniques, squeezing every last bit of value from existing IT assets.
The following are five steps that IT organizations pursuing an SOA strategy can take today to make sure they are not throwing out the proverbial "baby with the bathwater":

Step No. 1: Identify business goals and how IT is expected to support those goals
Investments in technology-enabled business processes (for example, merchandising, supply chain and pricing) can deliver up to 10 times the bottom-line impact of traditional IT cost-reduction efforts. Delivering against business goals does not mean IT becomes a "utility," taking orders from business owners. Instead, IT needs to work in partnership with business owners to help them understand what's possible and to be an advocate for technology-enabled change.