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30 December 2007

It was about SOA all along! Chapter 5

[Continuation of my commented reading of Andy Mulholland’s book: “Mashup Corporations. The End of Business as Usual”].

With the family reunion of the Christmas break, I have only managed to complete Chapter 5. In my defence, it is probably the most important chapter of the book judging from the powerful messages it conveys. The following chapters seem to be only about some of the consequences of taking on the challenge defined in this chapter: “Creating a Program of Service Enablement”. The authors describe such a program in terms of three levels or steps:

1. Designing a Single Service.
2. Designing Systems of Services.
3. Service-Enabling your Enterprise Applications.

According to the authors, no company has yet (at the time of writing) reached level 3! This is probably still true but I wonder if a company like Google that seems to have been implementing step 2 for years now, is not already well into service-enabling its core applications (and maybe they were designed as such from the beginning). In any case, what is implied here is that the first companies to successfully reach (and complete) step 3 are likely to be the success stories in the coming years.

The chapter starts with a wonderful email sent by the CEO of the fictitious company Vorpal. She writes to all the staff to involve them in building a new service-focused culture. The goal is to foster technological innovation throughout the company and “take shadow IT out of the shadows”. Once again, I’m not aware of many CxOs (let alone CEOs) with such an open-mind on new technologies and the courage to initiate and lead the drastic cultural change that a SOA demands. Such forward-looking leadership is indeed a must for a successful SOA implementation.

Chapter 5 describes 5 rules for successful SOA implementation. I want to comment only on the first two:

This chapter’s first rule is about promoting Shadow IT. The authors are quick to note that it is not a new phenomenon. Probably since IT was provided to people to do their work, most of them would work out their own “tools, procedures and workarounds” to increase efficiency at doing their job. Most importantly, this personal or team innovation is done without the IT department (official) involvement and in most cases even without it’s knowledge. This unofficial but productive IT is what the authors define as Shadow IT. I will quote their conclusion on this topic: “Failure to embrace and support Shadow IT in the long run means wasted resources, and inability to maximize the value of your company’s collective candlepower, and lost opportunities”.

The second rule is “Institute a Service Culture”. This is for me the cornerstone of an SOA implementation. The author only give this rule half a page but a lot more is implied. Service-enabling an Organization means adapting its internal culture. “Creating a lifecycle process in which services are made, reported, judged, and finally supported by IT, is essential to maximizing the potential of your homegrown and ecosystem-developed services.” I would add that all this creativity and innovation resulting in productive services must be formally recognized and rewarded. New pay, rewards and even promotion mechanisms will be needed to foster Shadow IT.

Going back to the second level of a Service Enablement Program introduced above, the authors give a brief but useful explanation of how to build a good set of services. In a nutshell, [each service must be] “sufficiently granular to allow for easy reuse; good design is decomposing process steps into a suite of services that can be orchestrated to solve the business need in question, while allowing for recombination.” This implies a potentially large number of services that will then need to be cleverly referenced, tracked and maintained.

The last comment I will make on this chapter refers to its last section (before a set of real life examples) titled “Rethinking Your Architecture”. SOA implementation will eventually (when reaching the level 3) mean a completely new organisational physical structure, and not just limited to IT but hierarchies and departments as well. When embarking seriously on the SOA adventure, you must be ready for significant no-turning-back – sometimes painful - changes that will transform your Organization.

19 December 2007

It was about SOA all along! Chapter 4

[Continuation of my commented reading of Andy Mulholland’s book: “Mashup Corporations. The End of Business as Usual”].

Chapter 4 is about how SOA can transform the relationships with your suppliers. I will quote from the book how a Vorpal supplier defines these SOA-driven relationships it has built with it’s customers (p.57). He is responding to one of Vorpal’s manager who noted that the collaborative meeting they just had was unusual in style:

Yes, we’ve noticed [this change] as soon as we created our new services and started doing mass customization for our customers, the relationship changed pretty quickly from a Darwinian struggle to a win-win situation – from conflict to collaboration, if you will – because we’re both going to make a lot of money that way. I like to think of it as negotiation jujitsu – it’s now my job to use your strength to create new business for us instead of just holding the line on price while you pummel me.”

With an SOA, suppliers and customers work hand-in-hand to generate value. They help each other out. Another useful quote on the next page is:

“[…] don’t just define your suppliers as services – define your own operations as services to them”.

You could say that you are helping your suppliers to serve you better. It is then in fact suggested that we should think of our partners and suppliers as members of ‘our’ dynamic ecosystem, where each member contributes directly or indirectly to the growth of all the others. Another good concept given is to see your suppliers as a channel. Your supplier’s customers are potentially new customers for you.

17 December 2007

It was about SOA all along! Chapters 2 & 3

[cont. from previous post about my commented reading of Andy Mulholland’s book: “Mashup Corporations. The End of Business as Usual”].

After reading chapters 2 & 3, I realised that I should clarify something important. When I state that my writings on this blog were about SOA all along, I mean that SOA is probably the best value-adding, customer-facing, tangible web-based implementation (that I know) of a knowledge leveraging strategy. What I do not mean is that SOA is the only way to leverage organizational knowledge, nor do I mean that a company-wide change process to establish a knowledge sharing culture must incorporate some degree of SOA in order to be beneficial. Also, SOA is primarily concerned with online services on the Web but of course, not all transactions are online! Having said that, if the technological aspect of SOA might probably not apply in a meaningful sense to all businesses; its associated cultural implications should be relevant to all.

SOA first advantage [over most other knowledge leveraging initiatives] is to be directly concerned with increasing/generating sales and this should help catching the attention of CxOs.

In chapter 2, a fundamental principle of a SOA is explained: extending IT to the edges of the company. This does not only mean involving the customer-facing collaborators in the creation/evolution of the services to the customers, it means to involve outsiders as well. That is collaborators outside the firewall (to use a technical view) and not on the payroll (well, they could get paid but not with a salary). So, do get this straight: the suggestion is to enable outsiders to “add their own services that create new revenue stream”. The cultural change required to support this is to have your whole company at the service of the people at the edge: the front-line/client-facing collaborators and any trustworthy outsiders with an interest to grow your business (see my knowledge-driven and customer focused organization diagram )

From chapter 3, I will retain in particular the advantages of services (Web 2.0) over traditional Enterprise Applications, with the guiding principle of releasing control to communities of users. The importance of a legal framework also must be noted, in order to secure a service-enabled commercial environment that heavily involve outsiders.

13 December 2007

It was about SOA all along! (Chapter 1)

[cont. from previous post about my commented reading of Andy Mulholland’s book: “Mashup Corporations. The End of Business as Usual”].

Here are my thoughts after reading chapter 1 of the book “Mashup Corporations. The End of Business as Usual”.

This book illustrates its arguments with the help of a tale of a fictitious company Vorpal going through the process of implementing SOA. The authors do stress that it is a rather idealistic scenario, but I couldn’t help thinking that the way in which the realization of the need for a more flexible infrastructure came about, was unrealistic for most organizations today. You have this young clever marketing manager who explains to the CEO how he uncovered a new unsuspected source of income. In order for Vorpal to benefit from it, it had to find ways to allow online ordering flexibility.

The thing is, if you currently work in a (relatively large) organization where a n-2 manager can simply request for a meeting with the CEO to talk about an exciting personal experience that may be of interest to the company, already consider yourself lucky. Then if you are among the lucky ones, if the CEO does listen to your entire story in details, then calls in on the spot the CIO or any other senior directors to listen to it too and give their opinion, consider yourself to be privileged to work with an exciting CEO with a modern management style. Now, if your story is likely to end up initiating a formal project in which you will have a leading role, please tell me the name of your company to add it to my shortlist of preferred employers!

Anyway, the authors’ intentions were not initially to consider all the likely resistance to SOA adoption. Instead, the Vorpal scenario helps us understand typical reasons for needing SOA and a typical implementation process with its cultural, organizational and technical impacts. In this second edition of their book, the authors have added chapter 7 “Overcoming barriers”, after realising how important the challenge to convince decision-makers of the need for SOA was in many companies. So, I’ll come back to this issue after reading this chapter.

The key concept I will retain from this first chapter is the difference between “Hub IT” and “Edge IT” and that “SOA flourishes at the edges”, just inside the firewall or literally outside of it.
I will quote a very useful definition of Web Services: “[they] are standard approaches to exposing the capabilities of a company’s web site or internal systems to other web sites or systems by bypassing the user interface and connecting directly to the underlying technology”.

To be continued…

12 December 2007

It was about SOA all along!

I was recently introduced to Andy Mulholland by a mutual friend. After reading some recent articles on his blog I quickly realized I had to read his latest book about Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) titled: “Mashup Corporations. The End of Business as Usual”. I ordered it on the famous mashup-rich website Amazon and started reading it yesterday. After only reading up to the end of the Introduction chapter, it suddenly stroke me: All my thoughts and ideas that initiated the articles on this blog since its creation in 2005 were calling for, relating to or assuming SOA! And the most amazing is that I never even mentioned SOA.

My understanding of SOA was that it was a modern method to organize the IT infrastructure for a more flexible applications delivery. So, I had the technologist view (sorry but I’m an IT guy after all) and was missing completely the point. SOA is not just about delivering services and the IT infrastructure, it is first about the adoption of new business models and a conducive corporate culture. Business models! Corporate culture! To those of you who have been in touch with my blog for a while, aren’t these recurring topics in my writings? Oh boy, how this realization got me excited!

So, I decided that I will keep posting about my reading of Andy’s book, and how it will surely make my understanding of the leveraging of organizational knowledge evolve to another level.

I will stick here to this enlightening Introduction.

It gives “five kinds of relationships upon which SOA will make the most impact” and the associated questions it will attempt to answer are:
<< How can you harness the ideas and energy of [innovators] eager to help [from inside or outside the company]?
How can you bring your customers closer to your core business processes?
How can you create a win-win relationship with your suppliers instead of an adversarial one?
How can [IT enable] innovation to break new ground while protecting critical data?
How can you best structure your IT resources to reflect the needs and new capabilities of SOA?

>>

The virtuous process of Human Capital Formation is concerned with the first question. My article on this process was focusing on the employees, but it could be adapted to cater for the contribution of people outside the company (I might do this when I have time).
The second question relates to one of the most important concept I have written about on my blog: Organize the whole company around the customer-facing functions in order to be closer to the customers and therefore satisfy them better. See “knowledge-driven not simply customer-driven”, and “becoming a knowledge-driven organization in response to more knowledgeable customers in the luxury market” and also a more specific case “knowledge-sharing for a Retail Manager”.

The third question is about the collaborative playing field of the Knowledge Economy where companies must collaborate with in fact not only their suppliers and customers, but even increasingly with their competitors.

I will leave the last two questions more concerned with the company’s IT function/department for now. Of course, with my experience there is a lot I could say about it, but this blog was initially avoiding this subject and no doubt I will be drawn into it in later chapters.

Let's read on...

03 December 2007

The Knowledge Challenge (for Consulting/outsourcing firms)

My latest contribution on Thinkingstreet.com :

http://thinkingstreet.com/business/2007/12/02/the-knowledge-challenge/


Peter-Anthony Glick

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