SOA federal market is wide open

Shared services architecture is making incremental inroads in fed sector

Federal agencies are expected to increasingly adopt service-oriented architectures, which describe services on a network that communicate with one another and make it easier for agencies to share information. The SOA approach will create new business opportunities for information technology providers, according to a recent survey.

In the “SOA What?” study, the survey’s organizers assessed the architecture’s use in the federal sector because they believe it will transform the delivery of government services. Mark Zalubas, chief technology officer at Merlin International, a consulting firm that sponsored the survey, said agencies are beginning to view SOA as a preferred architecture for data mining and cross-agency information sharing.

SOA is also gaining acceptance at the Defense Department, he said.

The survey found that DOD was a largely untapped market. The Defense Information Systems Agency is expected to soon release a request for proposals to develop a SOA.

Zalubas said a SOA applies open standards and has three primary functions. First, it serves as a foundation for application architectures. Second, it makes it easy to access and share data. And finally, it integrates applications internally and externally.

“SOA is not a new concept,” said Lewis Carr, director of global public-sector marketing at BEA Systems. BEA has been working with SOA projects for several years. IT advances, including open sourcing, have made it easier to use, he added. The software provider recently introduced BEA SOA 360, its newest SOA platform.

The study highlighted a growing business opportunity for IT contractors. For example, 49 percent of federal IT officials surveyed said they had heard of SOA, and 70 percent of those respondents said they were familiar with its capabilities.

But only 17 percent said they have implemented a SOA. Of those, 8 percent were at DOD. That compares with 13 percent implementation among civilian agencies.

On the downside, 78 percent of IT professionals who have been involved in a SOA project reported partial or no success.

“In terms of total success, the numbers were not as high as the hype would lead you to believe,” Zalubas said. “But this is pretty common in any burgeoning technology.”

According to the survey, 55 percent of federal IT professionals said their agencies would benefit by implementing SOA projects. And 73 percent of respondents who have implemented a SOA said they would recommend it to other agencies.

“SOA is hot in the federal government,” said Gene Leganza, a vice president of research at Forrester Research. He said a recent Forrester survey found more interest in SOA in the federal sector than in the private sector — 42 percent to 35 percent, respectively. He said that “is kind of unusual because people usually perceive government as a technology laggard.”

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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