What are the Services?

I recently completed a certification in ITIL v3 Foundations. On the plus side, I found that the ITIL framework provided some great structure around the concept of service management that is very applicable to SOA. There was one key question, however, that I felt was left unanswered. What are the services?

My assumption going in was that ITIL was very much about running IT operations within an enterprise, so I expected to see some sort of a service domain model associated with the “business of IT.” That’s not the case, at least not in the material I was given. There are a number of roles defined that are clearly IT specific, but overall, I’d say that many of the processes and functions presented were not specific to IT at all. As an example, ITIL foundations won’t tell you whether server provisioning or application deployment should be services in your catalog or not. Without this, an effort to adopt ITIL can struggle in the same way as an SOA adoption effort can. I’ve seen first hand where an organization thrashed around what the right operational and engineering services were. ITIL does offer the right guidance in helping you define them, in that it begins with understanding your customer.

This is the same question where many SOA initiatives struggle. We can have lots of conceptual talk about how to build services the right way, but actually defining the services that should be built is a challenge. In both ITIL and SOA adoption, there is a penalty for defining too many services. It’s probably much more pronounced in ITIL, because those services likely have a higher cost since managing and using those services tends to have a higher cost in the manual effort than managing and using a web service, although, if you’re doing business-driven SOA, the costs may be very similar.

Overall, I definitely felt there is a lot of value in the ITIL v3 framework, and I think if you are leading an SOA adoption effort, it’s worth learning about, as it will help your efforts. If you’re looking to improve IT operations, it will likewise help your efforts. Just know that there you’ll still need to figure out what your services are on your own, and that can have a big impact on the success of your adoption efforts.

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