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Is Vendor-Based SOA Training A Good Idea?

The results of bottom-up engagements, which are labeled as SOA, are faster delivery, increased reuse and lower development costs

I saw an announcement this morning by WSO2 that they are offering free SOA Training this summer; this triggered my uh-oh senses. I'm sure that WSO2 means well, but I've noticed a trend in my conversations with individuals who have a predominantly been trained by SOA Vendors to focus too heavily on the implementation design factors and focus too little, or not at all, on a top-down approach. To me, this makes perfect sense, because, and I know this is a contentious statement, architecture cannot be taught to the masses.

The results of bottom-up engagements, which are labeled as SOA, are faster delivery, increased reuse and lower development costs all good things. However, these solutions are constrained by their limited aperture, which results in too narrow of a focus and misses capturing the necessary domain knowledge in to the architectural model—the key promise of SOA—that will provide the aforementioned benefits horizontally, not just vertically in a single business domain.

Hence, the business leaders are disillusioned. It's not that they don't see the benefits to software development, but because they still don't have a solution that enables them to execute in business time. Without leading with a top-down design, the necessary subject matter expertise, and subsequent service model, to enable rapid delivery of a large, complex, enterprise-wide business processes is missing. The outcome of this latter point is that as the business tries to reposition with market changes, in the eyes of the business, IT still cannot keep up and all the talk of the benefits of SOA is diminished. Thus, SOA is yet another instance of “all talk, no action.”

But, let's not lay all the blame at the feet of vendors offering training on a skill that is not designed to be learned in a classroom over five days, but is a craft that needs to be honed over years working with talented craftsmen. Part of the blame need to be placed back on the business for believing they can get something for nothing. Much of the business community does not respect the value of architecture, is too focused on tactical wins and allows themselves to believe that they can create an army of low cost programmers, send them to a vendor-led SOA class and have them churn out projects that can meet anything more than a small community of interest's needs.

Of note, I lay a lot of this blame on middle management that has never learned to have critical conversations with their executives. I believe most senior executives are strategic thinkers, which is how they achieved their current position. However, middle managers are not trained to manage the expectations of their executives, and thus, believe if they don't show constant momentum, they will be deemed incapable of delivery and relieved of their duties.

Well, you cannot show current momentum if you've bought into the promise of enterprise and service oriented architectures—you've bought into the promise that strategic modeling of the organization will ensure that the real business needs are met in a way that drives agility and allows the business to keep up with market demands. Middle managers that learn how to manage the expectations of senior management through this process will win in a way that will surely position them for growth.

So, while its been a long and winding path to the answer—subsequently, a path that truly shows how everything is connected to everything—the answer is that vendor-led SOA training is not a good idea. Vendors have a mission, which is to sell software. To them SOA is something you build, not something you design. Hence, the focus from the gitgo is a failure and will lead to continuous disillusionment.

If the goal for the organization is to develop software faster, cheaper and with more quality using CMMI-like processes, then many of these vendors will help you achieve your mission and be successful. However, do not believe for a second that what your programmers and engineers learn in these classes will help at all achieve the mission of service oriented architecture, because, architecture cannot be learned in a classroom in five days; only architectural principles can, which are like sharp knives in the hands of babies if not properly directed.

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JP Morgenthal is a veteran IT solutions executive and Distinguished Engineer with CSC. He has been delivering IT services to business leaders for the past 30 years and is a recognized thought-leader in applying emerging technology for business growth and innovation. JP's strengths center around transformation and modernization leveraging next generation platforms and technologies. He has held technical executive roles in multiple businesses including: CTO, Chief Architect and Founder/CEO. Areas of expertise for JP include strategy, architecture, application development, infrastructure and operations, cloud computing, DevOps, and integration. JP is a published author with four trade publications with his most recent being “Cloud Computing: Assessing the Risks”. JP holds both a Masters and Bachelors of Science in Computer Science from Hofstra University.