Sometimes, to better understand things, we question ourselves. These days,
during our current economic crisis, something we might want to understand better
is SOA, or more accurately, service orientation (SO). Thus, here is a dialogue
Q: Why do you connect economical downtime with SOA?
A: For the era of automation provided by IT departments of organizations,
the business market experienced "downtime" several times already.
Business has learned that it has to switch from "go-go" to "go-slow"
mode in tough economic conditions. That is, it has to move attention and investments
from the strategic initiatives onto the sustainability, which is expressed via
minimization of expenses while doing the same business with less possible changes.
The most popular expense reduction mechanisms are cutting spending in cost
centers such as IT, cutting investments into new business solutions (assuming
that market just moves slower with no significant changes), and trying to produce
the same with fewer resources. And this did work for short while but not long
enough to "sit through" the slow-down.
At the same time, business orients to service naturally; this is how it makes
its living. Business consumers (in contrast with technical ones) are not only
those who consume at the moment but also those who have intentions or needs
to consume. The OASIS SOA standard positions SO as the business-oriented, consumer-centric
concept. This outlines SO from other known business and technical concepts;
SO collaborates across business-technology boundaries. Thus, if business faces
slowdown, i.e. reduction of service, SO is hardly affected.
Q: What are the specifics you see for current downtime and do you agree
that SOA is going down as well?
A: In short, SO can go down in a crisis only if it is misused. What
matters is the current downtime is different from the ones the business and
technology experienced before and "go-slow" does not work anymore.
SO has all the needed potentials to move a company through the crisis and win
after all. Here is an illustration.
Someone runs a flower-growing business located on an ocean coast. During a
calm season, the flowers ought to be covered to be protected from the nightly
breeze. If the wind is stronger, the cover should be made stronger so the business
can go forward. When next season comes with constant storms, a strong cover
can sustain for only so long. If a crash happens, the business fails. This is
what we have in our current economical crisis: it is so strong and promised
to be so long that just "go-slow" bids on the business existence itself,
not on its revenue. We witness how strong companies suddenly collapse every
The collapses happen for many different reasons, but a couple of them are quite
common: by going slower and "tightening the belt," the business cuts
its core -- serviceability and SO. This results in lower sustainability and
higher risk of total crash even if the business freezes. Another reason could
be the business continues doing the same things and in the same way but slower,
in smaller volume, and with less reserves. When a business shrinks, it gradually
loses ability to analyze market situation, new conditions, changed demand, and
so on. That is, its low-level processes and operations get more and more out
of sync with the changing external environment. This makes the organization
even more fragile.
In contrast, if understood on time and properly applied to the organization,
SO can guide the organizational structure that increases organization "survivalability"
via flexibility. SO can provide its best results right when the market turmoil
is quite high.
Q: It is an unusual approach. Well, why can SOA save business during the
A: As I mentioned, SO is about the business. That is, if we understand
what can save the business, we can find how SO helps it. Let's look at the business
surrounding by an enterprise's business eyes. It seems that we find an economic
environment that does not slowdown, but does the opposite -- it changes faster
and faster, in an almost sporadic manner. Well, for some industries that is
not necessarily true yet, and may never happen. However, those who are getting
into the crisis see their partners and suppliers go under, governments quickly
(but not necessary on time) change policies, rules, regulations and infuse billions,
and consumers demonstrate constantly changing behavior patterns and actual needs.
So, the environment is very aggressive and volatile. It is much more dynamic
than during a prosperous economic time. Then, why are organizations slowing
down their business and becoming more paralyzed?
From the history, we know many examples where small armies won wars against
much more powerful enemies. The secret was in the activity and efficiency of
small armies; they did not stand still, they moved and regrouped trying to discover
to the enemy's weakness. They demonstrated flexibility in reactions to the threads;
they flew around to avoid collisions. Thus, business effectiveness, flexibility,
dynamism and adoptability to external changes is the business strategy for surviving
an economic storm.
Today, SO is the methodology that possesses all mechanisms for flexibility,
dynamism and adoptability to external changes because of its core service orientation.
The strength of SO is not in an integration of legacy systems somewhere inside
IT, but in the ability of services to independently change its collaborating
partners, resources, compositions and creating new collaborations to address
new changes. SO is the methodology that can direct business toward organizational
and operational efficiency under the pressure of constantly changing requirements.
Q: All right. I think we would be very interested in knowing how SOA can
do it for the business and technology.
A: To survive, business has to start by helping itself. First, it has
to recall that it is service-oriented from the very beginning and it has to
preserve its services top-to-bottom. That is, its external services have to
be nothing else than the combinations of its internal services. Second, business
has to agree and understand that any process (real business process like between
Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable, or just operational supportive processes
like a reconciliation between registered and forwarded requests) is nothing
more than a realization of the business service. This is especially important
because low-level operational processes are just implementation of the customized
responses to the external environment. That is, if a change happens, business
flexibility may require significant modifications of those low-level operational
processes. Such dynamism has to overcome any potential ownership issues.
The final step is about relationship with technology. As Forrester Research
pointed out, "The reality of the digital age is that your business is embodied
in your technology -- you don't have a business until you have it implemented
in your technology base, and your business can change only as fast as your technology
can." That is, to be not only instantly reactive to the market but also
proactive in it, business has to pair with technology almost all along the way,
from the business idea inception to the user acceptance testing. Business needs
the IT to be not only as flexible as the business units, it needs the IT to
be always in sync with the business unit turns (rather than having its own technical
agendas). This is the matter of the organizational processes and human interrelationships.
Think how flexible the business units might be if the company's culture segregates
technology from the business or if IT is outsourced to minimize the corporate
spending during recent illusive "sustainability" periods.
Within IT, there is no need for new technologies to provide for SO promises.
Nonetheless, requirement of flexibility affects IT delivery culture. In short,
the major cultural transformations are dictated by the necessity to design and
build for changes, i.e. knowing requirements for today and considering their
future changes. Business and technology architects and analysts have to work
not sequentially, as before, but shoulder-to-shoulder on the service-oriented
solution (SOS, indeed). The SOS differs from traditional applications in that
it is always designed and released end-to-end, per function; it consists of
operational (manual) and technical components tied vertically, by the definitions
of the business services, and horizontally by the business processes (rather
than by any technology-oriented models). To be effective, SO requires strict
discipline in following certain design and implementation rules, i.e. to be
Crucial requirement of delivering properly working technical instruments almost
instantly demands two things: close collaboration between business and technical
people similar to the way demonstrated by the agile methodology, and highly
professional execution of the design and development. Service mentality has
to prevail in the product design and within the team and relationships to other
teams. If company's IT is not at this level yet, professional contractors can
bring needed expertise and still be incorporated into your business-technology
Therefore, the major take-away recommendations for doing business with SO during
the crisis are: 1. instead of slowing down, become proactive and dynamic; 2.
watch for the business efficiency of your daily business operations, preserve
their service orientation; 3. integrate, converge your business activities with
your technology solutions; 4. think in services, act as services, create service-oriented
culture inside and outside of the organization.
About the Author
Michael Poulin works as an enterprise-level solution architect in the financial industry in the UK. Poulin specializes in bridging between Business needs and Technology capabilities with orientation on business and technical efficiency, scalability, robustness and manageability.
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