Business Driven Mashups: Bottom-Up SOA?

When developing a service oriented architecture bottom-up is generally seen as bad. Top-down is generally better, and the pragmatists among us argue for a middle-out approach. If you’re not careful, the rising popularity of user-developed, browser-based, graphical mashups will force you down the road of bottom-up SOA design. And that is not a road you want to be on.

In SOA, the same concept means different things to different people so a few definitions:

  • Top down: focuses on analysing the business, in particular where it is and where it wants to go. The SOA is designed to support the business. Close alignment between business and IT.
  • Bottom up: focuses on service-enabling existing IT assets, often without regard to the business drivers for doing so. There is no strategic plan. IT builds a huge services layer in the hope that what they build may be useful to someone, at some point.

It may be oversimplifying it a bit but you could say that top-down is seen as ‘business-driven’ SOA and bottom-up is seen as ‘IT-driven’ SOA.

But that is now changing. Mashups are gaining popularity within the ranks of business power users. Services oriented architectures are starting to be seen by some as mashup platforms. Strictly speaking there’s nothing wrong with that. Mashups are one tangible, visible result of the behind-the-scenes plumbing that is SOA.

Here’s an interesting question though:

If: Mashup adoption is largely business-driven (by end-users).
And: The top-down (i.e. business driven) approach to SOA is the preferred way
Does that mean: that mashup-driven SOA design is a good thing?

The answer (as usual) is: it depends.

On the one hand, SOAs are supposed to support the business. If you develop services that can’t be used by mashups then your SOA is not supporting the business. Mashups provided a good ‘validation tool’ for checking that you’ve designed your services in a way that is useful to the business. Mashups are one potential consumer of SOA services, and will become an increasingly important one.

On the other hand, you can’t have each business unit submitting requests to IT to develop services specifically for their mashup, without considering what is going on in the rest of the business. This will result in an explosion of services developed in isolation, with no reuse potential and no reference to an enterprise-wide strategy. This is bottom-up design. And it’s bad. Just because it’s business-driven bottom-up rather than IT-driven bottom-up, doesn’t make it any better.

Mashups make bazaar-style innovation possible, but the old principles still apply. You need to take a big picture view and create a SOA strategy that aligns with the needs of the entire business.


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