Finding the SOA Champion

From the business perspective, Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) projects are fundamentally different from most other information technology (IT) projects in one significant way. Since one of the fundamental goals of SOA is to build reusable Services that consumers across the organization (and beyond) can access, it often doesn’t make sense for a single department or line of business to drive SOA projects on their own, without involvement from any other group in the organization. In the early pilot phases of an SOA rollout, departments might successfully tackle SOA implementations, since limited SOA projects are generally more prone to success than cross-departmental or enterprisewide initiatives. However, the issue of fragmented SOA initiatives predictably rears its ugly head as discussions about reusing Services across departments begin in earnest.

Reusable Services sound good on paper, of course — there’s no questioning the cost savings and agility benefits from streamlining redundant, inefficient applications across the organization by representing application functionality as loosely coupled Services. When people begin to consider the non-technical issues of governance, funding, and control, however, SOA projects risk losing their way and may find themselves bogged down in issues no architecture or technology expertise can resolve. After all, when faced with change, it is human nature to look for ways the new approach won’t work, rather than pulling together as a team to figure out how to make it successful.

Fortunately, there is hope for cross-departmental and enterprisewide SOA initiatives. Many companies facing the move to SOA have risen above the squabbling to drive cross-departmental SOA implementations which should lead eventually to successful enterprisewide SOA rollouts. These successful companies all have one thing in common: an effective champion who leads the charge for SOA.

Who is the SOA Champion?
A champion is usually an individual, or sometimes a small team, who understands the benefits of SOA, is able to communicate those benefits to both business and technical audiences, and who is committed to bringing SOA to their organization. The champion is essentially an evangelist who must use the power of persuasion to get all involved parties on the same page with respect to the goals of the SOA initiative, the governance, funding, and control issues, as well as the long-term SOA plan.

SOA champions are often managers or executives, but not always. They can be either business-oriented or technical, although they must have a reasonable understanding of both. They often do not have a budget for architectural initiatives, or even a direct purchasing responsibility for the software or services that go into an SOA initiative, but must have some influential role over the SOA buyers.

As ZapThink discussed in an earlier ZapFlash, SOA buyers can include application development, network operations, or security and policy managers, yet these managers are unlikely to be SOA champions, because of their relatively narrow focus or limited ability to be charismatic about an architectural initiative. The only SOA buyer who is also likely to be the SOA champion is an enterprise architect — an emerging role for many companies. However, the SOA champion need not be the SOA stakeholder, and may in fact fill other roles in the organization. The role they play also impacts how they must go about their champion duties:

  • The CIO — having the CIO as the SOA champion in the organization is the best situation to be in, because CIOs have both business and technology responsibility, as well as the power and budget to make things happen. The downside to having the CIO as champion is that these executives have a lot on their plates, and they won’t generally be able to devote large amounts of time to championing SOA. In practice, however, it is unusual for the CIO to be the champion for SOA in the enterprise.
  • The chief architect — the chief architect is either responsible for the overall corporate IT architecture strategy, or is a member of the enterprise architecture team who has executive-level responsibility for the overall IT architecture and how it meets the needs of the business. Sometimes these individuals have both budget and authority, but unlike the CIO, they may have the capability to become a full-time SOA champion. The chief architect is usually the CIO’s chief advisor on architecture issues, so as long as the CIO and chief architect see eye-to-eye, there’s a good chance an SOA initiative will be successful.
  • A line-of-business executive — having a business exec champion SOA is like a precious gem: rare and valuable. Few business executives have the combination of technical depth and architectural vision to champion SOA, but for those organizations who have such a person, this individual can often drive substantial business value out of the SOA initiative. These executives deal with business challenges on a daily basis, so when senior management hears about the benefits of SOA from these in-the-trenches executives, their word tends to carry a lot of weight. However, the greatest challenge business executives face when championing SOA is getting IT on their side. If the technology folks decide to resist rather than work together with the busienss, then this champion faces an uphill climb.
  • A senior architect — unlike the chief architect, senior architects generally lack the budget and authority to drive SOA adoption within their organization. Instead, these individuals must take the role of evangelist, communicating to every audience who will listen about the value of SOA. They must be charismatic, thick-skinned, and determined. An additional challenge such champions face is the fact that architects are always very busy, and thus they may not have enough time to champion SOA effectively.
  • An IT manager — IT managers without the scope of responsibility of the CIO often face the greatest challenges as an SOA champion. These managers tend to work within a particular department or IT silo, and can drive SOA initiatives from within their group. However, it can be very difficult for such an individual to build support for cross-departmental or enterprise SOA initiatives, because in many instances, senior management has become resistant to the constant wolf cries of the IT department, having tried to solve perennial problems with patchwork solutions in the past.

The seniority of the SOA champion, in fact, often limits the scope of the SOA initiatives the champion can pursue in general. Departmental SOA initiatives are the most straightforward and least risky to implement, and there are many individuals within the organization who can build support for such projects in their own departments. Cross-departmental initiatives are far more challenging, because of the political and organizational complexities involved in getting different departments to agree on the shared Services issues of control, funding, and governance, as well as the technical challenge of building truly reusable Services. Therefore, such champions must have some sort of political edge: either the authority to drive cross-departmental change, a special advantage due to their communication capabilities, or another intangible asset they can bring to bear.

Finding an SOA Champion

Instead of asking how to find an SOA champion in the organization, it might be best to first figure out if you should be such a champion, since if you’re asking the question in the first place, then you are a natural place to start the search. Whether you feel you are the right person or not, the key to identifying the SOA champion within your company is to find a person whose responsibilities put them at the crux of the business-IT relationship. In other words, look for a person who is responsible for solving key business issues, and who has sufficient visibility into the IT resources within the organization to understand how the company might bring those resources to bear to solve the business problems. For example, if your company is struggling with Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, a likely SOA champion will be an individual with some level of responsibility for the compliance initiative who also has standing within IT, either with direct responsibility (as with an architect) or indirect influence (as with a line-of-business executive with IT capabilities).

If there is no individual or team who is able or willing to intentionally take on the role as SOA champion within the organization, then the role by default falls to a business stakeholder. In other words, a line-of-business executive who has a budget and who is applying it to a particular IT project may be open to tackling that project in a Service-Oriented way. Otherwise, it falls upon the CIO to find a place for SOA in the midst of all their other important initiatives. However, if no executive clearly understands the benefits and costs of SOA, and there is no one else in IT willing to step up to the plate and champion SOA, then it is quite likely that an organization will implement poor SOA at best, if the architecture be Service-Oriented at all. Without a strong motivation to change, people naturally follow familiar, comfortable patterns, and such patterns today do not lead to SOA best practices. In other words, as long as SOA remains an emerging architectural approach, finding an SOA champion is virtually necessary for the success of any SOA initiative.

The ZapThink Take
People fear change, and our instinctual reaction to fear is fight or flight. Fleeing the danger is always the more comfortable option, and in large organizations, this flight appears as a dogged attachment to the status quo. In this way, resistance to change feeds on itself, immobilizing people just as the need for change is the greatest. The key to breaking this vicious cycle of inaction is empowerment. Give people the power to fight their fear, and they are more likely to push for change than to flee it.

Champions of change are those rare individuals who empower themselves to fight for the new approach they believe in. The secret to their success is their ability to empower their colleagues as well. Our advice, therefore, to the SOA champions out there: to bring about the necessary level of change that your organizations need to adopt SOA, you must empower your colleagues through knowledge and understanding. Champions above all else are teachers; instruct your colleagues on the practices, benefits, and costs of SOA, and they too will have the power to bring about positive change in the organization.

Download the Full Finding the SOA Champion Report Here