External consumers and providers

James McGovern, in his links entry for April 11th posted this comment in regards to my entry on what SOA adoption actually means:

“A measurement that would be interesting is to ask enterprises how many services do you have that are consumed outside of your enterprise. The numbers would be dramatically lower…”

As I thought about this, it became more and more interesting. First, I definitely agree that the number of services is going to be dramatically lower, unless your company is already a service provider (think ASP), in which case, then it should constitute the majority of your service portfolio. What about other verticals, however? Certainly supply chain interactions will involve external entities. Truth be told, there’s lot of potential for interactions with partner companies. How many companies outsource payroll processing to ADP or someone else? I’d venture a guess that there are probably areas for commodity services in every vertical. Over time, things that once were competitive differentiators become commodities. Once that happens, a marketplace opens up for commodity providers that focus on operational excellence and low cost, and the companies that prefer to focus on customer service get rid of their homegrown infrastructure and leverage the commodity provider. Guess what, when that happens, the potential now exists for service interactions. I recently presented some introductory information on service concepts and described business services as services that both ones that represent the primary business functions as well as ones that support the primary business such as HR, payroll, etc. Technology clearly plays a big role in both.

You may be thinking, “No arguments on what you said, but James asked about services consumed by outsiders, not provided by outsiders.” Quite true, but again, I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of these B2B interactions will require bi-directional communications. It may be the case that 90% of the time, the partner acts in the service provider role, but odds are that some of that processing will require them having the ability to make service calls back to you. At a minimum, some form of events should be flowing back into your infrastructure. The more information flow can be a circle, rather than a one-way line, the greater the potential for leveraging emerging technologies like CEP for continued innovation. If the information only flows one way, you severely restrict your ability to innovate based on that information.

Aside:James also posted some musings on Open Source and the possibilities of it playing a role in commodity vertical applications yesterday. If that happened, there would certainly have potential implications. It probably wouldn’t take long for someone to create a hosted solution for these open source offerings, again creating the potential for service interactions between the two companies.

The end result of my thinking on this is that if your thinking on SOA is constrained to inside your firewall, it won’t be very long at all before you need to extend that thinking, both as a consumer of services provided from the outside as well as a provider of services that will be consumed by the outside. Companies that make the claim that they’ve “adopted SOA” should have a view that encompasses all of it, regardless of whether their core business is being a service provider or not.

Leave a Reply


This blog represents my own personal views, and not those of my employer or any third party. Any use of the material in articles, whitepapers, blogs, etc. must be attributed to me alone without any reference to my employer. Use of my employers name is NOT authorized.