Service-oriented architecture, or SOA, is an area that promises to deliver great benefits to organizations, particularly in the legacy-system-intensive insurance and financial services industry.

Needless to say, there’s been no shortage of confusion and debate about SOA, with plenty of skeptics decrying the approach as vendors wrapping old ideas in new layers of hype. Bust just as harmful has been the over-optimism—or over-eagerness—around SOA, with visions of incredibly agile systems working in perfect harmony with the business.

Let me help debunk three of the most vexing myths that have been shattering peoples’ illusions about SOA:

• SOA is a new technology; or SOA is old technology deployed in new ways. Wrong on both counts. Actually, SOA is not a technology at all. As the “A” suggests, SOA is an architecture intended to help business get more out of their technology. Some may even consider SOA to be a philosophy. Actually, SOA has nothing to do with technology, and in an ideal world, solutions are interchangeable within an SOA framework.

• SOA belongs in the IT department. Actually, SOA should be owned by the entire organization; the IT department should be but one player in the SOA scenario. Perhaps a good analogy would be a mutual insurance company, in which the members are the company’s “owners” who play a role in electing company management. With SOA, every department should be the “owner” of the initiative, and play a role in the governance committee or team that oversees deployment decisions. The IT department also serves as the “administrative” arm of the SOA infrastructure.

• SOA has an ROI problem. Early in the year, Anne Thomas Manes, a respected analyst in the SOA space, raised quite a stir when she declared SOA—at least in the form we knew it—to be “dead.” A lot of people jumped all over this statement, raising questions about the viability of the SOA approach, which is now being undertaken somewhere within a majority of enterprises. The problem is that in recent years, many companies had been led to believe that SOA was a magic bullet that would deliver incredible agility and efficiencies within weeks and months. The fact of the matter is that SOA is a long-term initiative that slowly gains a head of steam on a year-to-year basis, as pieces of solutions become more flexible and processes are transformed.

SOA is an approach that has a lot of promise, and there are many successful implementations taking place across the industry, as documented here at Insurance Networking News. But it’s important to have realistic expectations—not too low, or not too high, but just right.

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology. He can be reached

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