The majority of large organizations are moving ahead with service-oriented architecture (SOA), but a growing number are deferring plans, according to a survey by Gartner Inc.

According to the survey, 53 percent of the respondents were already using SOA in some part of their organizations. Another 25 percent were not using it but had plans to do so in the next 12 months; and 16 percent had no plans to use SOA at all. Approximately 20 percent were building event-driven architectures (EDAs), and 20 percent were planning to do so in the next 12 months.

Between May and July of 2008, Gartner conducted a series of surveys about the adoption, use, benefits of and practices for SOA. This included an initial sample of more than 200 companies worldwide with more than 1,000 employees. There were three subsequent phases to survey attendees at Gartner conferences with SOA-related subject matter. These subsequent surveys had a total of 119 respondents that met the screening criteria.

Since the beginning of 2008, there has been a dramatic fall in the number of organizations that are planning to adopt SOA for the first time. In 2008, this was cut by more than one-half, down to 25 percent from 53 percent in 2007, while the number of organizations with no plans to adopt SOA more than doubled from 6 percent in 2007 to 16 percent in 2008.

"Organizations without a clear business case for SOA and without a plan to develop or acquire the necessary skills are justified in taking a cautious approach, and delaying SOA adoption plans for the coming year," said Daniel Sholler, research vice president at Gartner. "The focus should be on creating shared services and the governance processes necessary for sharing within a reasonable domain. Larger organizations (more than 5,000 employees) are challenged to create enterprise governance."

"Use of modern programming environments is closely associated with SOA," Sholler said. "This suggests that more organizations are focusing on SOA in the context of new developments that use Java, Microsoft .NET and some of the dynamic programming languages, such as Perl, Python, PHP and Ruby. Organizations should think about options when applying SOA in legacy programming environments because skills blending the two will likely be scarce."

The number of organizations that are already pursuing SOA shows a massive change in the future perception of SOA, from something that is essentially inevitable for all organizations in a short time to a situation where many organizations have evaluated SOA and have chosen not to spend time and effort on it.

"As more organizations gain experience with the true efforts and costs required to use SOA, and the benefits that they gain from doing it, it creates a sounder basis for making business decisions around whether to pursue it at this time," Sholler said. "The result of this is that the later adopters have a clearer business choice, and that by taking an inherently cautious stance, it is not surprising that a higher proportion would choose not to pursue SOA."

Gartner found that the significant minority that is not planning to adopt any SOA is a diverse group. The highest concentrations of organizations not pursuing SOA and having no plans to do so are in process manufacturing and agriculture and mining.

Overall, the two major reasons that organizations choose for not pursuing SOA are a lack of skills and expertise, and no viable business case. If the business case has been tested and is not viable, then there is no reason to do it. However, conversations with many Gartner clients have shown that there is a great deal of confusion about how to construct a business case for SOA. Even if a valid business case exists, then the required skills are often unavailable in-house, and the costs and effort to develop in-house skills and acquire outside expertise are often daunting.

The survey also found that the adoption of