Despite considerable hype, only a minority of enterprises have adopted service-oriented architectures and most that are using service oriented architecture (SOA) do so only within specific departments or projects, rather than throughout a company, Saugatuck Technology says in a new research alert.

SOA, as a way of connecting applications across a network via a common communications protocol, can enable enterprises to reuse software and create flexible business processes. But high up-front costs and confusion about what SOA actually is have led to concerns among businesses considering this approach to building IT systems.

Forrester Research analyst Larry Fulton said one of the most common questions people ask him is whether SOA is real or whether it is hype.

Saugatuck, a research and consulting firm said: "While there are a few outstanding examples of enterprise SOA deployment – the fact that they are outstanding indicates how few examples there are."

Over a third (37%) of senior IT executives interviewed by Saugatuck last year said they are deploying SOA, at least on a limited basis. But it found that many of those users were only managing a collection of web services and had not committed to SOA as a management discipline rather than as an integration technology.

SOA should be deployed enterprise-wide and have governance to define roles, responsibilities and processes, said Saugatuck vice president Michael West.
"You can't just have pockets of SOA, that doesn't get you what you're going for," he said. "It's kind of an all or nothing activity."

Saugatuck predicts that between 45% and 67% of users will have a limited or full SOA production environment by 2008. Major vendors such as IBM, SAP and Salesforce.com are stressing SOA in new product releases, but a number of factors are holding user companies back, Saugatuck said.

SOA must "contend with the traditional siloed structure of IT and business," the research and consulting firm states. "It requires a strong IT organisation and leadership to coordinate SOA planning and execution across these silos – especially to secure and coordinate funding for shared services."

Vendors have not fully articulated the competitive and strategic business advantages of SOA, leading users to pursue alternatives such as application-integration projects that are less expensive but don't provide the same long-term benefits, according to Saugatuck researchers.

"The world is full of projects that can be done quickly and cheaply, but you end up with lots of stovepipes lying around," West says. "The idea of SOA is far different than the idea of 'slam it in and we don't care how well architected it is.'"

Enterprises that deploy SOA will see expenses rise the first year or so, but over the long haul they should save money in IT costs and increase revenue due to the flexible business foundation SOA provides, West said.

"Better articulation by vendors of the competitive, strategic business advantages of SOA – not just IT and business improvements but real, industry-specific competitive advantages, presented in short-and long-term financial case-study format – will help user executives better understand the value of SOA investment," said the research.