Café Innovation — SOA and the Offshore factor
I have recently returned from the SAP Insider hosted Managing Your SAP Projects 2007 and Global Environments 2007 event in Miami where I had an opportunity to speak about Taking your project offshore: The ABCs of when, why, and how. The event had numerous sessions on rollouts of SAP in all parts of the world. As I observed some of the sessions and delivered my own, it occurred to me that we ought to be engaging in a discussion about the dynamics of what comes out of throwing together SOA initiatives with strategies of offshore development. What role does offshoring play in the new age of SOA?
The story of the industrial revolution reveals that standardization and the means to share standardized parts and tools were important factors in its success. Once a piece of hardware that was needed in essential machinery could be specified in uniformly understood terms, this could then be sourced from anywhere. The ability to conduct commerce over large physical distances solved the logistics of getting a part from point A to point B. The next step was to look at manufacturing wherever the most significant cost advantage was to be had. So today, a product designed in Austin can be manufactured in Tijuana or Shanghai, or a product designed in India can perhaps be built in the Czech Republic. Perhaps the evolution of the SOA world could benefit from these experiences and trends, and consequently emulate the successes already achieved in the industrial world.
Standards are a key when we look at creating and using services across platforms. This is essential to realize the full potential of SOA. We do know that there are standards, and then there are standards! Over time this aspect should become less of a factor if there is more convergence in the discussions around standards. Beyond standards, what is needed is a way to share this. Unlike the burden of having to figure out how to transcend physical distances, electronic sharing is a lot easier as we have experienced in recent years. Since work flows well across continents and oceans today, there isn’t a challenge around sharing. In fact, the use of offshore teams continues to grow and we are witnessing new dynamics. While the U.S. continues to leverage offshoring in a very big way, with Europe stepping up its usage as well, India, traditionally on the other side of the coin, is looking to add another dimension to offshoring. Wipro Chairman, Azim Premji, was quoted last month as saying that he was considering centers in Virginia and Idaho, in addition to Georgia! One can see how all these trends might co-exist, even harmoniously, in the commoditized arena of application development and maintenance. However, what makes matters somewhat complex is the nature and promise of SOA.
The question that needs to be answered is how can offshoring assist in the use of SOA for its true calling – that is, to deliver innovation that aids in bringing a new process, a new model or a new capability into being that can deliver significant revenue advantage or noticeable cost savings. This is important because SOA initiatives are being held out as vehicles of innovation – innovation that will yield competitive advantage for an organization or help it fight off the advances of predators! This is an important consideration because traditionally, offshoring has worked best in the context of clear, coherent, well-documented, well-scripted tasks. Tasks requiring heavy user-interaction or out-of-the-box creativity have typically been considered not-so-good candidates to be offshored. While these perceptions are changing, the push for innovative business processes will demand very strong business knowledge as well as the ability to interact with users quite intensely.
Numerous organizations have committed millions to utilizing offshore services to build and run applications that support critical business processes. Now the challenge before them is how to deliver SOA-based innovation in a cost-effective and repeatable manner. Can they leverage the advantages of offshoring effectively? What are the barriers? What are the critical success factors?