Forget IT. SOA can be applied to an organization (even one devoid of IT). If we throw out the conventional definition of organizations of hierarchies and functional units and replace it with a framework of business units offering services, we can derive a service oriented organization. Starting with the products and services we provide to external parties (external customers) and the products and services we obtain from external parties (external suppliers), we have the beginning of a framework to describe the organization. If we then add sets of internal customers and suppliers and define the act of providing a product or service to a customer as a service, we have the next step – a collection of services – tasks performed for a consumer. We can then map the incoming products and services to outgoing products and services by defining processes that consist of steps in transforming inputs to outputs. The processes and steps in the process are the services previously defined. So, processes become a string of services that are orchestrated to produce outputs. Now services are a lot like processes (very fractal) with inputs, activities and outputs; and, they can consume other services, so we need some rules to prevent service conflicts and circularities. This is achieved by defining an architecture of services with layers dividing the services based on rules about which services can call which other ones (for example, a typical rule is services at a given layer cannot call services at a higher layer).
Organizations that define themselves as collections of service (org) units, achieve agility from two basic facts: (1) processes can be changed by rearranging the services or replacing a given service with a different (new?) service and (2) new products can be produced by combining existing services in new ways and adding a few additional ones. Think about an insurance company offering a new coverage product – many of the activities required are the same as for existing products and can be reused.
In IT, the concepts are the same, except that now we are talking about software components instead of organizational units and they are even more flexible – software services can be offered to multiple consumers from the same distributed component on the network (i.e., the “cloud”). All of this adds up to a significant gain in agility both on the organizational and the IT side.