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Secret to Creating Value from Web Services Today: Start Simply (PDF)
Grids: The Missing Link in Web Services (PDF)
Security Considerations for Service Grids (PDF)
versus Trust: Mastering a Different Management Approach (PDF)
Business Processes - Harnessing the Value of Web Services Technology (PDF)
Loosely Coupled Business Processes: The Secret to Successful Collaboration
The Pitfalls of Early Web Services Adoption
Web services technology is delivering real business value today – that’s the good news. Early adopters are generally not getting the balance right between near-term business impact and long-term architectural direction – that’s the bad news. In fact, unless early movers are careful, they may encounter diminishing returns from the technology rather than harnessing the potential for increasing returns.
Based on extensive experience with early adopters of Web services technology, I see some clear patterns of adoption. I’ve discussed some of these patterns in earlier blog entries (see "Where Will Web Services Be Deployed? – Part 1" and "Where Will Web Services Be Deployed? – Part 2"). This time around, I’d like to focus on another pattern – one that is cause both for optimism and for concern.
Web services are being adopted along two parallel paths within the enterprise. The IT department is driving the first path. This path is largely restricted to prototypes and experiments designed to learn about the capabilities of the technology – very few initiatives in fact involve production deployments of the technology. In a few cases, the IT department has become deeply focused on designing a service-oriented architecture (SOA) – seeking to develop a detailed blueprint of what this architecture would look like across the enterprise before launching any specific deployments of Web services technology.
Non-technology line executives are driving the second adoption path for Web services. These are executives with specific business problems. They somehow heard about Web services technology. Somehow, they also became convinced that this technology could address their business problem and developed the courage to spearhead production deployments of the technology. It is this second path driven by non-technology line executives that accounts for most of the production deployments of Web services technology to date. (By the way, this is a pattern that extends well beyond Web services and that will have profound implications for technology providers, but that’s the subject of a future rant.) In fact, the pace of adoption along this path is surprising many of the early analysts who expected a slower ramp up.
This rapid pace of adoption by line executives is encouraging for a couple of reasons. First, it confirms that the economic value proposition of the technology is compelling – pragmatic line executives are becoming early adopters because they clearly see that the potential business impact outweighs the early adoption risks (for a more detailed discussion of this economic value proposition, see Chapter 4 of my book, Out of the Box: Strategies for Achieving Profits Today and Growth Tomorrow through Web Services. Second, it highlights one of the strengths of Web services technology – it can be adopted incrementally and targeted against very specific business needs.
But, as is often the case, strengths can also be weaknesses. Since Web services can be adopted incrementally, you don’t need to think in broad architectural terms about the technology in order to get real business value from it today. You don’t need to, and so many executives, especially non-technology line executives, do not. They are very pragmatically focused on near-term business impact. They are moving opportunistically, addressing one business problem at a time.
There are two problems with this approach. First, from a business perspective, the early adoption of Web service technology is largely ad hoc and opportunistic. That means the early deployments of the technology are targeted against real business needs, but there is no assurance that these deployments are targeted against the areas with highest potential for near-term business impact. There are few, if any, examples of companies systematically surveying the highest impact business areas for Web services deployment. The result is that near-term business impact is generally sub-optimized.
The second problem has to do with long-term potential. The long-term, and most significant, business value of Web services technology will only be realized when it is used to support the deployment of broader SOA architectures that extend across multiple enterprises. Opportunistic, one-off deployments of the technology may solve near-term business problems but, unless they are designed to be consistent with a broader architectural vision, they will contribute nothing towards longer-term value creation. In some cases, they may actually make it more difficult to implement a consistent architecture later.
Make no mistake about it. As useful as Web services technology is proving to be, it is only a modest step in the direction of SOA architectures. SOA architectures deliver a much higher flexibility to business operations based on three key elements: the service concept, the philosophy of loose coupling and the notion of a broker.
Once deployed, SOA architectures create a powerful platform for increasing returns because network effects take hold as more and more services become available within the architecture. Equally importantly, SOA architectures are especially adept at supporting activities across multiple enterprises, given the focus on broker-mediated, loosely coupled services. As a result, the increasing returns potential of the architecture is not limited by the boundary of the enterprise - the value continues to increase as the architecture extends across multiple enterprises.
Good CIO’s understand the value of a consistent IT architecture. Done right, it can create enormous leverage where the sum of the parts becomes far greater than the individual parts themselves. But CIO’s can go too far in championing IT architectures. They are often tempted to block near-term initiatives until the broader architectural implications are completely understood. They can also become consumed in developing elaborate conceptual architectures that become increasingly detached from real business need. They may also have difficulty in structuring architectural migration initiatives in ways that can generate real business value along the way – the efforts can become expensive multi-year programs with few clear milestones along the way. At the extreme, architectural initiatives can become black holes, consuming time, money and people at an alarming rate.
Web services technology certainly will deliver near-term business impact. The challenge for executives is how to maximize this near-term impact while also building the foundations for the real economic prize: the longer-term business value creation opportunities created by the deployment of SOA architectures.
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