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Are SOA Centers of Excellence Necessary?

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Last week, the SOA Consortium released the audio of a panel that discussed the skills, role and relevancy of SOA Centers of Excellence (CoEs)

Bruce Henderson (Savant), David Butler (HP), Rich Reba (CSC) and Melvin Greer (Lockheed Martin) participated in the panel.

Bruce argues that

Vision, Politically Savvy and Communication are the critically important skills... CoEs fail because these skills are rare. It's easy to find technologists and academics type of people.

David first thought that

CoE meant "Center of Evangelism".

He argues that the first step is to look at the level of maturity of the organization. There are generally multiple transformations which are taking place: Process, Culture and Architecture. When application modernization is on the agenda,

It is part of the CoE's job to figure out which asset can be modernized, they are the one that define valuable business services. In many ways, they are responsible for automating Governance... It is very important to understand that Service Lifecycle is very different from Code Lifecycle or Solution Lifecycle.

Dave recommends to have a management track, a technical track and a financial track. He argues:

If you can't see your CoE, you can't see SOA. The SOA CoE is the "product" [1] in SOA.

Rich talked about his three 3s

Three skills: Business, Technology and Management this is essential

Three Abilities: Foresight, Innovation, Leadership

Three elements of character: Passion, People's People, Tenacity

He argues that a SOA CoE is a business, it is there to make money.

He notes that Culture is the biggest inhibitor to SOA adoption. You need to staff your CoE with people familiar with the culture and the way the organization works. They need to understand the constraints that the organization will be facing.

Melvin explains that there are several models that will work. You also have to recognize that:

Building a Competency Center is different from working in a COE

When you build a CoE you need: Tenacity, Political skills, and be Business savvy. Practitioners are a good fit. At Lockheed Martin, CoE members are focused on their mission, they don't need the same skills are the people who built it.

On the other end the critical skill for the members of the CoE is be able to:

Design for Reuse, this skill is very difficult to get,

Other members of the panel argued that one has to be careful with the words we use, because SOA can get "too big" and "too large". Reuse has to be balanced with interoperability. Being able to deliver interoperability is in itself a skill set difficult to acquire.

The group agreed that SOA Governance is key to reuse but it is also a new process for the enterprise.

SOA Governance manages the way services are being developed and described so that somebody would be incented to reuse them.

For instance:

There is a new lifecycle that needs to be created for governance, geared towards the consumer ... collaboration between consumers and providers need to be installed in the IT organization.... [ultimately] business lifecycle is a tricky thing.

The panel spent also some time discussing "semantic interoperability".

People forget about semantics, interoperability at that level is moving in the design space.

The panel also noted that a new generation of consumers starts combining information from unrelated "silos": Enterprise Mashups quickly run into semantics interoperability problems.

One of the key skill set that we see emerging is to understand the semantic tree and be able to use the different tools. This is critical for composite applications.

The panel concluded that a COE is an accelerator.

It is not essential to have one, however if you are talking about transformational and modernization, you need one.

A CoE concentrates the skills that are required to deliver a successful SOA. In many ways, it is a corollary to a PMO or an Architecture practice.

You need to make sure that all the moving parts are moving the same direction.

Ultimately, people understand scale, and are capable of enterprise thinking.

Do you know many companies that have a different telephone system for each business unit? They just need to be pointed out to this kind of thinking. This is the role of the CoE.

SOA is introducing new and complex processes and technologies while aiming at achieving sophisticated enterprise-wide goals. The panel hints the importance of establishing a CoE with a broad set of skills as a key success factor. What's your opinion? did you have a SOA CoE? did it play a critical role in the success of your projects? What was the degree of reuse of the services it produced?

[1] it is often said that no "product" can give you SOA, Dave is using "product" in this sense in the quote above

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