IBM: Users Say SOA ’Skills Gap’ Hampers ROI

F1000 execs looking for full value from their SOA investments are hampered by a lack of SOA skills, says an IBM survey of SOA customers. IDN learns how IBM is identifying and filling this 'SOA Skills Gap' from IBM's VP SOA & WebSphere Strategy, Channels and Marketing Sandy Carter.

Tags: SOA, SOA Skills, Business, IBM, Skills Gap, Technologists, Customers,

Corporate execs looking to capture full value from SOA investments say they are handstrung by a lack of SOA skills throughout their organization, according to an IBM executive and a survey of IBM corporate customers recently made public.

"An SOA 'skills gap' is popping up across all areas of the SOA lifecycle, impacting both IT and Business," Sandy Carter, IBM's VP SOA & WebSphere Strategy, Channels and Marketing told IDN. She cited findings of a survey of IBM's SOA customers, and outlined programs IBM is launching with corporations, universities and standards groups to fill this SOA skills gap.

"We've definitely found from our customers there is a shortage of SOA skills across the board, not just in IT," IBM's Carter told IDN. "The SOA skills shortage is really across the entire SOA lifecycle, and includes architects, business, risk management and other professionals that can help companies apply SOA to transforming their business."

From IBM's internal survey of F1000 executives using or considering SOA, Carter shared the following findings. [The survey was conducted during IBM's 2007 IMPACT Conference]:

  • 56% respondents say a lack of SOA skills is "the #1 Inhibitor" to launching and delivering SOA projects with strong business impact
  • About half of all respondents admit they have less than 25% of SOA skills they deem necessary to meet long term goals
  • 80% of respondents will invest to increase SOA skills in their company this year
  • More than 60% of corporate executives invested in SOA-targeted retraining for both IT and Business staffs in the past year

    The IBM survey findings are in accord with at least one SOA analyst firms' views: "One dire prediction…is that there simply won't be enough qualified and SOA experienced enterprise architects (EA) around," said a 2007 report from Zapthink.

    This 'SOA Skills Gap' will be an important topic at IBM's 2008 IMPACT conference (April 6-12; Las Vegas), Carter said.

    IBM Moves to Identify, Fill the 'SOA Skills Gap'
    Carter says one key way to fill this SOA skills gap is to train staff members in a new category of SOA skill -- one designed to bridge the worlds of IT and Business.

    Carter calls this category the 'T (pronounced letter-T) Professional,' referencing their ability to reach out to and work with both IT and business professionals. "Finding or training people with 'T-shaped' skills will definitely bring quicker and more effective SOA results because these skills lead to better understanding of the SOA lifecycle," she added.

    Carter lists four (4) core SOA skills that are key to filling the skills gap - and boosting business benefits from SOA investments. They are:

    Help achieve greater agility in specific departmental business areas
    Collaboration within a line of business

    Extend End-to-End
    Help achieve optimization and innovation across end-to-end business processes
    Coordination across lines of business

    Business model innovation to support a 'globally-integrated enterprise
    Enterprise-wide organizational cooperation

    Adapt Dynamically
    Predictive business automatically responding to many market forces
    Enact significant shifts without direct IT involvement

    IDN goes into more detail with Carter about where IBM sees the "SOA Skills Gap," and what steps IBM is taking to help F1000 customers fill this gap - and boost business results from SOA investments in our interview.

    An Integration Developer News
    Interview with Sandy Carter
    VP SOA & WebSphere Strategy, Channels and Marketing

    IDN: Can you describe how IBM sees this 'SOA skills gap' in affecting IT, and how IBM is moving to fill that gap?

    Carter: Typically, technologists are very logical, so we show them business facts about SOA, not simply architectural or technology facts. We also know that sometimes you need a change in priorities to help technologists tap into this kind of thinking Our goal is basically to turn technology skills into 'T' skills, where the experienced technologists can take the skills they already have and put them to even better use in their company by helping them put those technology skills into a business perspective.

    IDN: The 'T Skills' person sounds like the blending of the best of IT and Business - something companies have long wanted. Does SOA perhaps make that 'T' transition easier?

    Carter: That's one way to look at it. Yes. When we show technologists the huge numbers of business drivers that would benefit from SOA, it doesn't take long for many of them to make those kinds of connections. That's how we started to tackle this issue within IBM. [We] have long had a rewards program for [software] patents. So, to redirect of technologists toward innovative uses for SOA, [we] introduced a rewards program for re-usability, and…changed some of our programs to focus rewards for people who would reuse code or even create code that would be more reusable.

    IDN: How would you suggest F1000 executives assess whether they have an SOA skills gap, and then go onto fill it?

    Carter: A couple of things come to mind. First, according to our surveys, 80% of CEOs said they have to make major changes to jump on these [SOA] trends in the marketplace. Even more telling, the same percentage of CEOs do not believe their organization is capable of changing quickly enough.

    IDN: Wow, 80% of CEOs are worried. That's quite a big number. Can you drill down on that a bit?

    Carter: Sure. Specifically, they believe that change management, and not just IT change management but changing their culture to think differently about IT and business will be their hardest task moving forward. They don't think they are nimble enough to change. So, IBM has a number of programs and approaches to help them try to change.

    IDN: What is IBM finding to be most helpful?

    Carter: Well, first of all, we tell our customers: 'You don't start to try with a huge project. You start with a small project.' But we also tell them, 'Start with a big vision. Set a vision that is larger and broader than the scope of the project you chose. Like what Steve [Mills] did for us at IBM, where we changed our rewards systems to encourage reuse.

    At first, IBM was criticized for saying start small in SOA, but that's turned out to be very successful for our customers because starting small allows them to see the value quicker, find mistakes quicker and even build up to get larger buy-in across an organization. Starting small with SOA gives you a pilot, not just for the technology but for how the business and IT people should work together. It's like even in marketing, when we market a new product we test our product and our message in a couple of cities, and then if we get the right results, we roll it out more broadly. The same principals are at work here.

    IDN: You mentioned some early IBM SOA projects. What lessons do you think IBM took away from their early SOA projects that your customers could benefit from?

    Carter: One of the things we found out first is that SOA is hard, and we looked at why. One of the biggest reasons we found SOA could be hard in IBM was because we have silos - different business units, different IT departments, and all sorts of silos. For SOA to be truly successful and have big impacts on business, it has to be horizontal. But, another thing we learned is that not everything has to be horizontal.

    So, we set out to find [SOA implementations] that would prove this out. It turns out we started with HR. We started a horizontal process for HR, the first time. That's what mean by having a pilot. For HR, we had all divisions across IBM come to a governance board meeting, so we had many [cross-silo] groups participating from the start. The approach proved very successful, and now it's rolled out to supply chain end-to-end. We have something like 200-300 purchasing systems.

    IDN: A lot SOA advocates run into trouble in their companies when they go looking for higher-level buy-in, or try to get business managers to support their SOA IT project. Do you have recommendations for them?

    Carter: We're certainly seeing trends on both the IT side and the business side that can help with getting buy-in, yes. Bottom-up is what you're talking about, I think: So, for that, one large US bank IBM is working with is a good example. Their IT group first proposed an SOA project, but they had trouble selling it to the higher-ups. So, they scaled their initial large project down to just meet the needs of one group on the business side. They started with skunk-works project, until they were able to show some success, and then they took a federated approach and took their small successes to a larger project.