Forrester defines service-oriented architecture (SOA) as a business-focused approach to solution design and software architecture. By providing open, flexible access to the business capabilities and transactions buried within an organisation's applications, SOA makes it easier to adapt business software to new business requirements. CIOs who think of SOA merely from a technology perspective will miss the business view of SOA and miss an opportunity to lead their organisations forward. SOA is only the start and the foundation of a much-broader shift in the future of business-focused IT architecture, which means that those who get SOA wrong will have a poor business foundation for many years to come.

SOA is mainstream

Fifty-six per cent of enterprises say they are using SOA now and an additional 12 per cent will be using it by the end of 2010. Among Global 2000 organisations, 74 per cent are using SOA now. All this SOA usage is not just industry hype and experimentation, either. SOA has been delivering tangible results that make IT executives want more of it: 52 per cent of current enterprise SOA users say it has delivered enough benefit that they plan to expand its use. Only one per cent of SOA users say they are cutting back on SOA because they see little or no benefit while, for 30 per cent, it is still too early to tell.

However, getting SOA right takes work: 18 per cent of enterprise SOA users say they are struggling to get the benefits and, in Forrester's experience, this is often caused by a technology-focused approach to SOA.

SOA is a foundation for your strategic business future

With all the industry hype about Web services, it is easy for CIOs to get the idea that SOA is just another new technology, but taking that attitude means missing a very important strategic point: SOA is first and foremost about your business, not Web services technology. In fact, 38 per cent of Global 2000 SOA users report that SOA is helping them with strategic business transformation. The key points CIOs must understand about SOA are:

• SOA aligns your software with your business. While it is true that SOA is fundamentally an approach to software architecture and design - which makes it sound tech-oriented - the most important SOA concept is to design software around the business capabilities you need to run your organisation. Each SOA-based business service performs a complete business transaction or query, hiding the complexity of your IT applications behind a pluggable digital software interface for a specific, targeted business capability such as "submit order" or "distribute sales lead."

• SOA creates a portfolio of business capabilities. By designing for the business capabilities your organisation needs, a business-oriented approach to SOA creates a coherent portfolio of business services that directly reflect the design of your organisation's major business transactions and processes. These services are built upon and leverage your existing base of siloed and overlapping legacy applications. They insulate your business from existing complexity by providing a service layer where business alignment is built directly into your software.

• SOA brings business capabilities where they are needed. With a portfolio of SOA business services, your organisation can quickly connect your business capabilities to any business process, employee, customer, partner, supplier, government entity, mobile device, or anything else as needed to adapt to changing business conditions and implement business improvements.

There is benefit in SOA itself, and there is further benefit in the foundation for business process flexibility, intelligence, and visibility that SOA provides. Because SOA business services are designed to embody your business transactions and queries, other technologies have a business-focused foundation to build on. For example, business process management software orchestrates a series of services to create a managed end-to-end process. Event processing software keys off of services to identify and automatically respond to business events. Analytics software consumes services data to tell you how your business is doing. Unless these and other technologies have SOA's business foundation to build on, implementing them only creates more technology integration issues.

To elaborate on the broader opportunities that arise from an SOA foundation, Forrester's Digital Business Architecture and Dynamic Business Applications visions embody a future where the architecture of your solutions matches the design of your business. SOA is critical to your organisation because it is the foundation for achieving a stronger strategic future for your business.

A strong majority of enterprises will be using SOA buy the end of 2010

To download a courtesy copy of the Forrester research report discussed in this article, "Insights For CIOs - SOA And Beyond", please go to:

Forrester Enterprise Architecture Forum Discount Offer

Randy Heffner will deliver a keynote speech entitled "Crafting Your Technology Strategy for Business Impact" at the "Forrester Enterprise Architecture Forum EMEA 2010," which takes place in London on March 2 - 3, 2010, at the Millenium Gloucester Hotel in Kensington. Readers of CIO UK c receive £480 off the full delegate price when they register by calling Forrester Events at: +31 (0)20 305 4848 quoting the VIP code "EACIO".