Business Ecology Initiative & Service-Oriented Solution

Michael Poulin

What a business service is

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Each business process is a business service.

If you do not take me at my word, or do not take BPM expert Dr. A. Samarin at his word, try to ask any consumer (not a worker) of a business process whether this person is aware of what is 'cooking' behind the consumer interface. Each business process appears as a business service to its consumers.

In this blog, I offer extracts from my coming book "Architects Know What Managers Don't" related to the definition of 'business service' and related to the discussion of its role and position in the enterprise. So, here you are.

"Receiving a business service is not a privilege of external customers of a company - everyone in a company serves everyone else. A business service allows those who are in need to get access to either business capability or to the results of business capability execution.

We can formally define 'business service' as the following:

a business service is understood as a collaborative combination of manual, semi-automated and fully automated actions performed by people and machines aimed at providing certain business functionality and reaching certain business values and Real World Effect (RWE)

where the Real World Effect is:
a measurable change to the state of pertinent entities, relevant to and experienced by specific stakeholders or participants of an ecosystem (society or community).

(Represented definition of RWE is in line with "Reference Architecture Foundation for Service Oriented Architecture", v. 1.0. OASIS, SOA Committee Specification Draft 03, Public Review Draft 02, 06 July 2011, p.37)

Now, let us change our viewpoint on business service (or product) from the consumer-enterprise axis to the intra-enterprise axis. It is not a secret that in some cases one externalized business service engages another to better satisfy consumer needs. We are familiar with such cases in the travel or hospitality business, where the main service provider - a transport company or hotel - offers additional services, e.g. car hiring. This practice begs the question - if a business service is the major instrument to reach business objectives, and we know how to combine different business services to satisfy more complex consumer needs, why don't we use the same model within an enterprise among its divisions? What is the difference between external and internal usage of business services?

The first difference that comes to mind is a bit trivial - external consumers of a business service are not controlled by enterprise management but 'bring money' in contrast with potential internal consumers. This means that to win an external consumer the service has to be really good, while there is a possibility to command an internal consumer to use a barely working service. Another reason why management might want to isolate external business services from the internal 'operational kitchen' is the belief that internal services may be managed to a high standard with less formal controls, i.e. with softer requirements and relationships. Does this work well for companies?

Assume we have a softer policy over obligations of one business team to another. If the cut formalities include a process of synchronization of delivery plans (a very laborious and time-consuming exercise), we can end up in a situation where one business team cannot deliver a service to its consumers because it depends on the delivery date of another team that does not prioritize its work to be done, as required. Frequently, this discrepancy is set on hold just to keep good relationships between people in different teams and surfaces only at the last moment. Visibility of failure in delivery has much more visibility for external services because of strict policies regarding treatment of external consumers.

If business functionality provided to external consumers is the most important task for a business, all internal dependencies of this functionality have to be treated at the same level of importance as an external service. If this 'chain of dependency' breaks anywhere and an internal failure is not taken as seriously as it would be if it was an external failure, sooner or later the external service or product will suffer and the problem will not be easy to fix because of external/internal perception.

The ideal solution for the described problem is business organization, which takes its internal interactions between business units/functions as seriously as exposing its products/services to external scrutiny. In other words, each internal business unit may be measured for profitability vs. external providers of the same service. Such an organization does not necessary require an increase in internal bureaucracy. Instead, quality of work can be reached via much closer cooperation combined with a high level of responsibility for business actors in internal business processes.

Business service transparency throughout an enterprise is the precondition for robust business capabilities that are so valuable to customers. If everyone in a company serves everybody else in the same company, there should not be situations where a consumer becomes the mediator of resolving internal issues and conflicts. Instead, one internal business service should engage another as needed, until the initial task is resolved. The ability of a business service to resolve its business tasks and problems, by itself or with assistance from other business services, is the most important business capability of the service ecosystem."

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In this blog, Michael Poulin writes about business and technology ideas, concepts, methodologies and solutions leading to service-oriented enterprise, the primary instrument for obtaining business objectives in fast-changing environments.

Michael Poulin

Michael Poulin is an enterprise-level solution architect working in the financial industry in the U.K. and the United States.

He specializes in building bridges between business needs and technology capabilities with emphasis on business and technical efficiency, scalability, robustness and manageability. He writes about service orientation, application security and use of modern technologies for solving business problems. He contributes to OASIS SOA standards as an independent member and is listed in the the international "Who's Who of Information Technology" for 2001. View more

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