Top 10 SOA Pitfalls: #1 – Ignoring culture when introducing SOA

23 Jun, 2008
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Last week Viktor Grgic explained Unclear ownership / Project based funding. This week we’ll continue with #1 – Ignoring culture when introducing SOA.
SOA is an approach. The culture aspect of introducing a SOA is important, but it seems that companies want to invest in tools and not in people. In order of making this SOA to work they force their employees into this new way of thinking/acting. Often this leads to resistance which undermines the SOA goals. In this part we will look into ignoring culture when introducing SOA.

First of all: what is a culture? An organizational culture compromises the attitudes, experiences, beliefs and values of an organization. Hofstede identified five dimensions in his study :

  • Small vs Large Power distance; degree of equality/inequality between people.
  • Uncertainty avoidance; the level of acceptance for uncertainty and risks.
  • Individualism vs collectivism; the contrast between individual or collective achievement and interpersonal relationships.
  • Masculinity vs femininity; is your organization based on male or female values.
  • Long vs short term orientation; contrast between relation values orientation.

When introducing a SOA some of these dimensions are likely to change in order to improve the performance of an organization. But wait a minute, a cultural change? It was just an architectural style! Culture is certainly relevant for SOA. For instance, when you look at ownership the first dimension can change. The ownership shifts from IT to the business. When you look at the second dimension, a SOA introduces an uncertainty, because people are confronted with a new way of thinking/acting. In the third dimension the way of working together (business and IT) changes.
Ivory tower
The way SOA is introduced in companies varies, but often SOA introduction is technology driven. From an ivory tower this new way of thinking is figured out and dumped into the organization. Sometimes with a few practical guidelines, which are often very abstract. The guidelines are misunderstood by the business and IT people which makes it more complex. The main problem here is that the SOA vision is not shared between business, IT and CxOs, (and ivory tower). You can document guidelines, but this does not imply that involved people share the same ideas.
In companies the adequate awareness is not filtered down to an enterprise level. Adoption of SOA might become a roadblock. The awareness starts with the concept of SOA. What is a SOA? In most cases people think they know what a SOA is, but have a different vision on the topic. Even people who do know what a SOA is, have different views on SOA. Therefore it is important to have the same vision at enterprise level.
Although SOA should not be used to change a culture, the introduction will probably change some cultural dimensions. Resistance to these changes needs to be handled with care. The success of the SOA depends on the acceptance of the SOA, reducing/removing of resistance is crucial to increase acceptance
The best way to introduce a SOA is to follow the following steps:

  1. Make the SOA vision a shared vision. Only a shared vision could lead to a successful SOA implementation. Without this first step a SOA is doomed.
  2. Define a strategy of how to change. What is your strategy of changing to a SOA. Included cultural aspects and awareness.
  3. Define clear tasks, roles and responsibilities.

When using these steps the acceptance of a SOA will increase.
The cultural aspect is often forgotten when introducing a SOA. People that introduce a SOA, often change a culture without knowing. When you are not aware of this, this might lead to an adoption roadblock. Be careful with a large cultural change. Start small, think big.
Next week Vincent Partington and Gero Vermaas will wrap up the SOA pitfall series.


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