Friday, July 22, 2011

Tell me where it hurts: part 1 of "A World of Services"

Think about where it hurts when you consider the current state of technology in business:

"I'll need a business case, an ROI analysis, approval from legal
and finance, a project manager, FTEs, and
a development environment in three minutes, or we're all dead!"
  • Business technology seems moribund; it takes forever and costs too much to do things you can do easily in the consumer technology world.
  • CIOs would like to see themselves as Mr. Spock to the CEO’s Captain Kirk: a trusted consultant who comes up with the right solution, standing by the captain bravely staring into the future.  In practice, IT is often more like Mr. Scott in engineering, asked to perform the impossible with astoundingly complex machines, scrambling to save the day. When Kirk said, “Mr. Scott, I need warp speed in three minutes or we’re all dead!” Commander Scott always came through.  Unfortunately, CIOs don’t have scriptwriters on their side.
  • Needless to say, if the fictional USS Enterprise operated like the enterprises we serve every day, it would have fallen out of the sky very early in the first season. There has to be a better way.

People have dreamed of a streamlined, responsive IT and a truly agile business for a very long time.  Enter the idea of services.

Web services. Service Oriented Architecture. Cloud services. Software as a Service. Middleware-aaS. Platform-aaS. Infrastructure-aaS.

Decompose technology delivery into manageable services. 
“Service” is a veritable workhorse of an IT word. Append it to anything and like magic it sounds current and desirable.  The challenge with such words is that sometimes, they are important, but get lost in the buzzword sea.

That’s my point. The idea of services in business--IT especially-is one of the keys to understanding the future.  Embracing the services idea actually
does have promise to improve things.  We can look more closely to find out why.  

One common theme at is that there is a bigger story about technology, business, and society than we see when we're head-down, working on tasks and projects. There are many reports and many companies who will help you do the head-down work; legions of dedicated people are giving their careers to those endeavors. This is about the other part: looking for themes within the big story that may help us do things better.  The idea of services in that big picture isn't sexy, and it's not all that buzzword-friendly. but I contend that it's worth examining.

First, some level-setting: to understand the potential of services in business, we need to think of business processes and outcomes as either horizontal or vertical:

Look at this definition and this slide, from the Infrics analysis of research styles:
“Is the focus horizontal or vertical?  If many people come to you to solve a similar need across many departments, your focus is likely horizontal.  If you bring together people from many departments to achieve something that wouldn’t happen without that coordination, you’re more vertical.  “

What is a service?  Let’s try this on

Service: a means of delivering value, either through simplification and standardization of complex processes, or by abstracting complexity to the point that it appears simple to users, Services are primarily horizontal in nature; they can be reused and combined with other services to create primarily vertical outcomes.

What does that mean in practical terms?

  • Some services are consumed by other services (or processes), some are consumed by people (users.)
  • At each level, those consumers are spared the need to know how the service was supplied, they are freed to just use it to accomplish what they need.
  • In general, those services that represent simplification and standardization can be seen as plug-and-play building blocks, and represent the lower layers of the chart: infrastructure as service.
  • Services that mask complexity so that it appears more simple are enabled by those plug-and-play services lower in the stack.  Human resources, for instance, is a horizontal service composed of other services, and in turn delivered to vertical “run the business” efforts.
  • By virtue of their reusability, services reduce or eliminate duplication of effort, driving down costs.
  • By virtue of standardization--especially when they represent simplified business processes--services often lend themselves to competitive bidding and outsourcing.
  • Services tend to increase flexibility, and reduce deployment times, enabling greater agility from technology and business processes

We know services almost instinctively, because in areas outside of business and IT, we use them all the time.  The most classic example is electricity (thanks, Nicholas Carr); enormous complexities of generation and distribution are abstracted at the end user level. We have wires coming into our homes and a bill once a month.  Because electricity is standardized for voltage, frequency, installation codes, and connectors,  we can provision our entire home with simple, off-the-shelf appliances and lights, secure in the knowledge that it will all work.

Thinking of Power-as-a-Service shows two important ways to evaluate the value of service-oriented thinking, service KPIs, if you will:

  1. A good service disappears. You don’t have to be aware that it is there, you just get your work done or your problem solved.
  2. A good service enables DKDC--Don’t Know, Don’t Care.  I don’t know where the generators are that power my home, and I have no reason to care whether I know or not.

    When you think of services in enterprise and IT terms and consider the cloud computing discussion, the true test of cloud success would be DKDC; if I am the consumer of a cloud service, and don’t have to know or care that it
    is a cloud service, it’s performing as it should.  By their nature, services push the DKDC question to deeper and deeper levels, away from the consumer.  

“This means something. This is important.”  Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”  

Remember the big picture: 

  1. Simplify complexity where possible, push it down the stack away from users where needed, by decomposing technology delivery into reusable services--create a Service Oriented Enterprise. (subject of this series, A World of Services)
  2. Decouple the delivery of data and programs from specific devices, to allow users the ability to use technology without being limited by their machines.  Make delivery Stateless. (subject of the first of the big ideas articles, Free Your Machines, and Nothing But Net)
  3. Move direct power to manage information closer to the people who use it, and away from complex programming and projects.  Flatten organizations and make IT an invisible part of business processes. (articles in development now)
Next in A World of Services, "How technology disappears" Mapping services to business, describing IT services and the services-based IT organization, and thinking about innovation in the resulting low-inertia business environment. 

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