Implementing Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) in the Enterprise

I recently participated as a panelist on this subject for Women in Technology.  It kills me sometimes when us folks in IT are asked the question … how do we implement <insert technology du jour> in the enterprise?  In preparing for the panel, I spent a little time preparing for that inevitable question.

First, let me define SOA – in plain language and not Geek-speak.  It’s a way of developing software by grouping together software functions that perform loosely coupled services or activities.  Examples of such activities might be online booking, guidance and navigation, or online application submission.  NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center successfully utilizes this architecture in its GSFC Mission Services Evolution Center (GMSEC). The advantages are increased scalability, reusability, and flexibility in IT systems.  This can result in better solutions at lower costs delivered faster compared to traditional development methods.

So, like I said, it kills me when CIOs are asked … how do we implement SOA in the enterprise? It’s the wrong question really.  SOA for SOA’s sake is just plain stupid.  The essential questions are strategic.  What are the needs of your enterprise?  What is your current state from a technology perspective? Can SOA do a better job of getting you where you want to go? Then finally, assuming the answer is yes … how?  CIOs almost always look at three areas when thinking about the answers to a “how” question: People, processes, and technology.

People.  The workforce needs to be trained to understand the suitability, value and benefits of this technology. It is often said if all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.  SOA is just one tool in the technologists’ tool belt.  One must have more and discern when and how to use them. 

Contractors who provide services to the organization must be incented to use this technology as appropriate.  The typical “level-of-effort” contracts incent the behavior of 18-month software development cycle of monolithic systems.  Contractors have to have incentives to utilize the right tools in their tool belt to deliver value and mission success to agencies.

There’s also a “not invented here” culture that may prefer to development home grown code rather than utilizing pre-existing code.

Processes. One big advantage of SOA is the ability to deliver cross-agency services.  Governance talks about who makes decisions; when we make those decisions; what are the scope of things that are decided; how do we inform those decisions; and how do we make those decisions.  But, how do we develop good processes or procedures for doing all that? Who has decision rights? How do we manage service levels? How do we perform release management and configuration management? What do we do if something breaks? Who is responsible for fixing it?

Technology. This could be one of the easiest areas assuming that governance is addressed adequately. We need to think about standards and we need an architectural framework that informs our strategy after synthesizing were we are as an enterprise, where we need to go, and what is the roadmap for getting there.

Yeah, SOA what! I like neat technology just like the next girl.  It’s cool and snazzy, but if it is not solving a problem, we’re probably implementing technology that may not have mission value.  The potential here is great, but first we have to pause and reflect on what particular problem we are trying to solve. And finally, we need to implement approaches that address the people, process, and technology dimensions.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA CIO Meeting: Connecting with Dot

The NASA CIOs had another intense and successful offsite meeting to move closer to resolution of pervasive IT problems that plague the agency.  We also made significant progress in implementing the tenets of our IT Strategy soon to be finalized by Acting CIO Bobby German.

I couldn’t help but reflect on the significant leadership moment that occurred with our friend and colleague Dot Swanson, Deputy CIO of NASAs Johnson Space Center.  Courageous and tenacious, Dot seldom has trouble finding her voice.  To the extent that in our afterhours networking and teambuilding session, the other NASA CIOs and Deputies bet her that she couldn’t be quiet for the whole day.  Pictured here are the items thrown in the pool: a wallet, two pair of reading glasses, $22, a $25 Target gift card, a cell phone, a blackberry, an iPod, a health insurance card, a man-bracelet, and a Washington, DC Metro Smartcard.  Too bad our other colleague Ames Research Center CIO, Chris Kemp couldn’t be there.  Even I would have kept my mouth shut for his watch!JSC Deputy CIO Dot Swanson admires her potential windfall

It was a little scary at first.  After all, I had the blackberry, iPod, Smartcard, and gift card at risk.  But, after a morning full of carbohydrates and caffeine, Dot found her voice again and we all safely retained our valuables. 

I thought about how Dot’s voice was such an important and valuable addition to Team CIO.  Her perspectives and her willingness to speak up are important ingredients to implementing complex and risky projects.  She has three key attributes which the book Crucial Conversations (Patterson, et. al.) says are required to speak the unspeakable yet still maintain respect – confidence, humility, and skill.

Confidence — where she has the courage to say what needs to be said.  Humility — where she is not only willing to express her own thoughts and opinions, but also encourages others to do the same.  And finally, she is a skilled communicator. 

Once you’ve found your own voice, the choice to expand your influence, to increase your contribution, is the choice to inspire others to find their voice. Inspire (from the Latin inspirare) means to breathe life into another. As we recognize, respect and create ways for others to give voice to all four parts of their nature–physically, mentally, emotionally/socially, spiritually–latent human genius, creativity, passion, talent and motivation are unleashed. It will be those organizations that reach a critical mass of people and teams expressing their full voice that will achieve next-level breakthrough in productivity, innovation and leadership in the market place and society. – Stephen Covey

Connecting with Dot reminded me of the importance of all of that.  She is truly an inspiration.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center