Sunday, May 10, 2009

SOB - Service Oriented Business

I was having lunch with a friend and he asked me: "What is a simple definition for SOA that I can tell people when they ask?"  I thought about that and all the answers I came up centered around "How do we build it."  

When I googled it, I got lots of answers, but they were very technical in nature or used service in the definition:

OasisA paradigm for organizing and utilizing distributed capabilities that may be under the control of different ownership domains. It provides a uniform means to offer, discover, interact with and use capabilities to produce desired effects consistent with measurable preconditions and expectations. citation

IBMService Oriented Architecture (SOA) is a business-centric IT architectural approach that supports integrating your business as linked, repeatable business tasks, or services. 

GartnerAn application topology in which the business logic of the application is organized in modules (services) with clear identity, purpose and programmatic-access interfaces. Services behave as "black boxes": Their internal design is independent of the nature and purpose of the requestor. In SOA, data and business logic are encapsulated in modular business components with documented interfaces. This clarifies design and facilitates incremental development and future extensions. An SOA application can also be integrated with heterogeneous, external legacy and purchased applications more easily than a monolithic, non-SOA application can. Citation

None of these definitions were something I could memorize and regurgitate when a vice-president asked "What's this SOA thing?"

My definition is simple: "SOA is a way of organizing work that maximizes the consumer / provider metaphor"  A friend suggested I replace "metaphor" with "relationship."

As I was thinking about this definition, I was studying agile programming and there was a reference to the type of company: Functional-oriented vs. project oriented were what the book was referring.  My brain said, "What about service-oriented?"

Can we make a service oriented business (SOB)?  Certainly we have thought of that acronym about employees of a business who believes incorrectly that they are service-oriented.  But can we actually make a business that is completely service-oriented in the consumer / provider metaphor?  What would such a business look like?

Obviously at the top are services that are provided to other entities which they (asuumeingly) pay to consume.  Internal to these services, some work is accomplished.  But probably there are also underpinning services as well.  Services that we rely to make our service perform, stocked, etc.  And those services have underpinning services and so forth.

But if we consider SOA as maximizing the consumer / provider relationship, we could consider the underpinning service as its own business.  A business that "sells" its own products/services.  As a network of these arise, we can see the value matriculating from the end-consumer through our network of inter-related services.

What I find interesting about this concept is that it is value based.  A service invests its income in providing its customers what they want.  I know we have hear the "treating the other employees as customers" rhetoric hundreds of times.  But if we truly created a business as a network of services, would that change?

One other interesting thought that I have about this network of services.  It is ripe for outsourcing.  If we divided a company into logical semantically accurate functionality [work] and consider the "service" as an internal provider of that work and then we found out an external party can offer that same service at the higher value / cost matrix.  Wouldn't that inspire better investment into that service internally?

Said a different way.  Couldn't this help us meet our goal of All work that is necessary for a business to operate should be provided by an entity whose core competency is doing that particular work.

Just some things to think about.

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