Is this an “enterprise” service?

A conversation that I’ve seen in many organizations is around the notion of an “enterprise” service. Personally, I think these conversations tend to be a fruitless exercise and are more indicative of a resistance to change. I thought I’d expound on this here and see what others think.

My arguments against trying to distinguish between “enterprise” services and “non-enterprise” services are this:

Classifications are based upon knowledge at hand. Invariably, discussions around this topic always come back to someone saying, “My application is the only one that will use this service.” The correct statement is, “My application is the only one I know of today that will use this service.” The natural followup then is whether or not the team has actually tried to figure out whether anyone else will use that service or not. Odds are they haven’t, because the bulk of projects are still driven from a user-facing application and are constrained from the get-go to only think about what occurs within the boundary of that particular solution. So, in the absence of information that could actually lead to an informed decision, it’s very unlikely that anything will be deemed “enterprise.”

What difference will make? To someone that makes the claim that their service is not enterprise, does it really give them tacit permission to do whatever they want? A theme around SOA is that it approaches things with a “design for change” rather than a “design to last” philosophy. If we follow this philosophy, it shouldn’t matter whether we have one known consumer or ten known consumers. I think that good architecture and design practices should lead to the same solution, regardless of whether something is classified as “enterprise” or “not enterprise.” Does it really make sense to put a service into production without the ability to capture key usage metrics just because we only know of one consumer? I can point to many projects that struggled when a problem occurred because it was a big black box without visibility into what was going on. If there’s no difference in the desired end result, then these classifications only serve to create debate on when someone can bend or break the rules.

What I’ve always recommended is that organizations should assume that all services are enterprise services, and design them as such. If it turns out a service only has one consumer, so what? You won’t incur any rework if only one consumers uses it. The increased visibility through standard management, and the potential cost reductions associated with maintaining consistency across services will provide benefits. If you assume the opposite, and require justification, then you’re at risk of more work than necessary when consumer number two comes along.

It’s certainly true that some analysis of the application portfolio can help create a services blueprint and can lead to a higher degree of confidence in the number of consumers a service might have. This can be an expensive process, however, and projects will still be occurring while the analysis takes place. Ultimately, the only thing that will definitively answer whether a service is “enterprise” or not is time. I’d rather set my organization up for potential success from the very beginning than operate in a reactionary mode when it’s definitive that a service has multiple consumers. What do others think?

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