Service Oriented Enterprise

At virtually every conference I go to, I hear someone declare that people need to “destroy the silos”, and that SOA is the enabler. Loosely, I think of a silo as a system or information repository that solves a problem for a few parts of the enterprise, while leaving other areas responsible for solving the same or similar problems on their own.

Silos causes duplication of systems, business rules, and data. They require multiple levels of cleansing and integration, leading to increased maintenance and operational expenses. Generally, silos are bad. After working with a handful of organizations, it occurred to me these companies had not performed “Silo Analysis”. The rumors that SOA can help are true.

What are our silos? Is there a good reason for the silos? Which silos do you want to end-of-life? Will SOA lead to “silo services”? The first step to the process is to recognize what silos you now have. As I described earlier, silos mimic organizational reporting and funding structures often. It is common for these structures to be embedded within each other as well. For instance, Acme Corporation might have duplicated CRM systems for every SBU but also has additional CRM systems in the Asia locations of each SBU.

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In fact, the silo evaluation has to take a look at combinations of the structures. Not all silos are bad. There tend to be reasons why silos can be found. Unique business requirements may necessitate unique I.T. It’s important to comprehend WHY the silo system exists but take care not to allow ‘unique business requirements’ turn into a universal reason for duplicate systems.

Once you’ve found silo systems that could be rationalized to a single service, you have to decide if there is politics will power to “de-silo” the region. Oftentimes, if not most, it is very difficult to retire systems. The upfront cost of retiring a system is often a burden an organization will try to defer for as long as possible, typically proclaiming there are “higher priorities”. The bottom line is that there will be higher business priorities but I.T.

Often the goal isn’t to retire the systems but merely to make a solitary point of access. In such cases, I.T. Here, we aren’t retiring systems, rather we’re ‘bridging the silos’ by standardizing the access point allowing consumers to obtain a single view. Service Orientation offers a great system to decrease the number of silos and mitigate the damage of the silos that can not be eliminated.

From a rationalization perspective, SOA offers the ability to make a single “Master Service” that functions as the single source of truth for logic AND data. However, many organizations aren’t realizing this vision. As much have mentioned, services continue to be built in a random fashion leading to JBOWS (Just a Bunch of Web Services). In nearly every case JBOWS are simply just silo services which were created because no one funding authority got the charter to execute silo analysis and justify a non-silo solution. Although the ‘governance’ and ‘cross-silo funding’ problems are obstacles, I believe a more tactical hurdle remains.