SOA and complexity.

This continues my simplicity series (rant).

Joe has a very interesting post over on ZDNET. If you are in Enterprise Software marketing, you should read it if it is the only thing you read this week.

He picks up on a podcast he was on with Dana GardnerSteve Garone, Joe  Neil Ward-Dutton, Jim Kobielus and Trip Chowdhry,  an equity analyst MD  at Global Equities Research.

Trip’s message is very simple and straightforward: Vendors, please start making some sense to the rest of the world when it comes to SOA. Trip said that the SOA concept holds some promise, but vendors aren’t articulating the message too well. “SOA is definitely a trend, but it seems like the messaging, the product, and everything else need to be simplified, so that people can know how one initiative can correlate and coexist with other initiatives they have going,” pointed out. 

Trip bashes SAP:

“If you think about companies like SAP who have very long implementation cycles, they have a lot of moving parts,” he explained. “It’s a complex product, and the problem that SAP has — and to some extent, most of the SOA vendors have — is that they’re trying to solve complexity with complexity.

When it comes to mass adoption — or the second phase of product adoption that needs to occur to show growth — then you really have to ease the product, ease the message. You have to tell what you do in one bullet point.

This worries me, not just for perpetuation of the SAP is slow to  implement myth, but because the the abject failure of enterprise software marketeers from all the major vendors  to articulate SOA in a way that customers and the investment community can understand.  

(I suppose the one positive from this is that Joe and co picked SAP as a SOA vendor.  Normally the analyst types moan that we aren’t SOA enough.)

I’ve been critical of the SOA marketing for sometime, here and here for instance. I commented last year.

The only thing in the world harder than learning German is trying to explain SOA to an audience of HR executives without causing them undue pain and suffering.

Business people want to talk about leaner supply chains, better margins, and fast implementations.   

Sam commented a while ago on James’ blog, the post was  discussing SOA

I’d go even further James and say that not only is it often superior to present an architecture without mentioning the supposed name of the architectural approach/style used, but often it’s best not to mention the concept of architecture at all.

The desired outcomes and value of the solution to the audience you’re talking to should press the right buttons.

Unless of course the audience is pure software people or technical architects and then their desired outcomes and value can be the architectural approach/style itself. Hence the problem of course … I like to call it supply-side thinking.

At the moment there is far too much recipe and not enough meal.

Every software developer I meet, not just here at SAP, but all over the place, tells me that SOA makes it simpler and faster to build flexible enterprise applications.  This stuff then is real,  it works.

If folks like Trip, who can probably do Black-Scholes calculations and build value at risk models while in the airport queue, don’t grasp what the marketeers are on about, then perhaps it is time for a big glass of Simple. 

The way to talk about SOA is not to talk about it, and just showcase the solutions that it enables.   Repeat after me.  Short sentences. No jargon. Real examples. Simple is goodness.

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7 thoughts on “SOA and complexity.”

  1. Niel made a great comment on the EI site. Most ISVs deliver tools but do not focus on implementation and operational processes. He referred to ITIL which is helping standardize IT infrastructure management. There is little of that around apps with each outsourcer/SI with its own methods. Tools can never completely factor in that process complexity and yes, lack of precision or consistency. And the SAP compensation for that is to try and make the tools even more sophisticated which adds to overall complexity. But since you outsource the (impl and ops) process to your SI partners and your customers, you cannot optimize it, your marketing people tend to minimize it. There have been spectacular write-offs around SAP which is hard for SAP to accept. You want to make things simple, take more aggressive control (or participation) of the impl and ops processes and then and only then backward design new products…just changing the UI will not do it.

  2. amen!

    You sell the solution not the pieces that make up the solution. For example when you buy a car you are not sold a fantastic tonne of steel you are sold a solution to get from A to B.

  3. I’m a True Believer when it comes to simplicity but I wonder if we aren’t letting the pendulum swing too far in the other direction after decades of gobbledygook.

    When I hear clients say “I want you to make this simple” what they sometimes mean is “I don’t want to know about the details.” While I sympathize with the sentiment that says “I am paying you to take care of these,” a large portion of the complaints have to do with the surprises that occur when the assumptions I make about those details don’t line up with the client’s.

  4. Colin,
    I’m with you, but I think we need to realise that there can be more than one SOA conversation.
    There is the deep, technical high priest discussions about standards etc, and there is the simple explain this in 5 minutes. Our industry seems to make the mistake of trying to do them both at once.

  5. Chiming in a little late on this one – but when selling services to any audience other than IT, there is only one correct answer to the question “how does your technology work?” And that is “very well thank-you”.

    Business users care about cost, quality, speed and service – not technology per se.

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