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Work In Progress

Service-oriented architectures are promoted as a model of efficiency for software development, a way of bringing plug-and-play ease to software "services." But implementing them hasn't been easy, with some companies finding that SOAs add complexity rather than simplicity.

Nearly a third of companies using them say service-oriented architectures are falling short of expectations, according to an InformationWeek Research survey. Among this group, a quarter have seen growing complexity in their IT systems, a third have been hit with higher-than-expected costs, and half report trouble cost-effectively integrating legacy systems into new software-development processes. It's a disappointing report card for a technical philosophy that's meant to guide software projects for years to come.

Software honchos haven't given up on SOAs, and many continue to be believe that their efforts will be worth the frustrations. In our survey of 120 business-technology professionals, respondents cited IT platform standardization, business-process automation, business flexibility, and operational savings as the leading business drivers behind their moves to service-oriented architectures.

The hard part is getting there. SOAs involve more than a few software services that get used across a couple of applications. They require a fundamental change in an IT organization's approach to software development, a broader role for business analysts, a clear understanding of employee and customer needs, and a plan for managing and securing the services that are key to it all.

The transition to service-oriented architectures from monolithic apps, where a big mass of code runs a series of processes from start to finish, is on the same scale as the move from mainframes to client-server systems, contends Gary Free, senior systems consultant at health insurer Highmark Inc., and it's fraught with as much uncertainty. "It's a totally different way of looking at things," says Free, lead architect for what Highmark considers its first true SOA project, revamping its entire claims-processing system.

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