Changing the delivery of IT

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Televation: Article

What Is Service Orientation?

On the importance of achieving true business agility

The solution is well-known, but seldom achieved

Transform the existing monolithic architecture into a modular architecture that enables strategic agility through loosely-coupled customised or reusable modules (see figure below). [2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 12, 16, 17]

Figure 3: Legacy migration pattern.
Figure 3: Legacy migration pattern. [9]

This pattern focuses first on controlling the internal dependencies between the modules and then using service level agreements to facilitate consolidation of existing applications.
Notice, that this pattern can easily be used for multiple monolithic legacy systems concurrently. Notice also, it doesn’t say anything about in which order each legacy application should be migrated – nor does it say anything about the partition of steps between each transformation stage.

Finding the business justification for the final step in this transition is not always easy. Many will stop at stage 2 when they have the façade that delivers on the more immediate need to expose the business services in place. However, it must be understood that aspects of business agility, not just technical agility remain compromised by the continued use of a poorly structured implementation. [9]

Rethinking operations

In the late nineteenth century, the unit of analysis was the worker's task, the efficiency of which Frederick Taylor's4 time and motion studies improved. Sixty or so years later, with the arrival of the mainframe computer, the key unit became the department. Then, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when cheap PCs and internal networks allowed companies to connect departments economically, it became the cross-functional process. In the age of the Internet and service orientation, the unit of analysis is not a company's way of conducting its operations at all; it is the primary purpose or desired outcome of each activity, no matter how that activity is accomplished. [12]

It has become possible to design many business activities as Lego-like software components that can easily put together and taken apart. What's primarily responsible is service orientation, a relatively new way of designing and deploying the software that supports a business activity. The beauty of service orientation is that it allows activities – or processes built from such activities – to be accessed using the now-ubiquitous Internet in a standardized fashion. [12]

What's more, turning a business into a collection of loosely coupled activities does not require that monolithic enterprise resource planning or customer-relationship management systems must be overhauled or ripped out. To the contrary, when service oriented architecture is placed on top of them, it unlocks their proprietary language, making them more accessible. [12]

As a result, building or buying service oriented software should be the last – not the first – step in creating a new operating model for the business. [12]

Modularity, not just modules

While the prevailing view that IT systems should consist of modules isn’t new, the concept of modularity is often misunderstood.

Just because a software developer claims that the various parts of a system are modules does not mean that they are actually modular. Modularity involves clearly specifying interfaces so that development work can take place within any one module without affecting the others. [2]

A truly modular architecture allows designers to focus on building solutions to local problems without disturbing the global system. And a clear proof-of-concept that modularity is not properly achieved is often painfully visible when a new versioned module needs to be deployed, because it often means shutting down entire systems! [2]

With small, modular pieces, the organisation can purchase off-the-shelf-solutions (f.ex. supply chain or customer-relationship management software), or turn to inside or outside developers for a certain piece, accelerating the speed of development. Modular architecture also makes it easier to upgrade the technology within modules once the system is up and running. [2]

Breaking down and solving problems in this way offers a number of advantages beyond speed. It allows the IT to concentrate on obtaining the lowest-cost solution for each part and (by partitioning of work) reduces the impact of a single-point-of-failure. [2]

4 Frederick Winslow Taylor (1859-1915) was an American mechanical engineer who sought to improve industrial efficiency and is regarded as the father of scientific management.

More Stories By Martin Kaarup

Martin Kaarup began his professional career over a decade ago as a system developer on location-based mobile phone services. During that time he participated as lead developer in pioneering unique state-of-the-art location-based services for the European and Asian markets, such as low-cost fleet-tracking using antenna triangulation and applications for utilizing customer positioning data for demographic use. He also participated in building location based games, such as treasure hunts and country-wide Dungeon & Dragons-based games merging www, wap and sms technologies.

Later, he shifted to the financial sector in Scandinavia where he worked as an enterprise architect building, extending, and delivering advanced fund data solutions and services designed specifically for the pan-European Fund Industry.

Today, Martin is an employee at the Swedish consultants company Avega Group, where he focuses his expertice on consulting companies on strategic and enterprise wide issues.