The Human Side of Service Orientation

Because ZapThink focuses on XML, Web Services, and Service orientation, many people have come to believe we focus on technology. In fact, we don’t — ZapThink’s focus is squarely on the impact those technology trends have on business. Nevertheless, people who tend to separate business and technology into two separate spheres of inquiry always think we’re technology-focused. Now, we’re not saying we should be thought of as business-only analysts, either. On the contrary, our opinion is that the dichotomy between business and technology itself is both obsolete and dangerous. In fact, when we speak of Service orientation — the central concept to all of ZapThink’s research — we’re talking about both technology and business.

How Service Orientation Should Work
We define Service orientation as the perspective of IT functionality being available as discoverable Services on the network. For companies looking to implement Service-oriented architectures (SOAs), the starting point is with the Services themselves. As the SOA takes shape and the organization adopts a Service-oriented approach, the Services must continue to meet the needs of the business as those needs change and develop.

While the technical challenges a company must overcome to achieve such a vision are substantial, the human challenges are even greater. No longer can a company organize its IT department by application or system, because the role of IT is now to support and maintain the Services in production, and those Services can cut across the existing organizational lines. Likewise, Service-oriented IT is now fully able to support business processes that cut across line-of-business divisions, as well. In other words, Service orientation enables business reengineering — organizing business around core processes, rather than siloed departments.

Reengineering, as you may remember, was a phenomenon of the 1980s and early ‘90s that offered great promise of increased efficiency and customer focus, but in reality was a mixed success that came to be a euphemism for downsizing and of the susceptibility of management to fads in general. In retrospect, one of the main reasons why reengineering wasn’t a greater success was because IT wasn’t yet flexible enough to support the organization of business based on critical processes. Instead, the limitations of IT constrained the ability of business to change.

Service orientation now provides the necessary IT agility to do reengineering right. However, the human change management issues that also plagued past reengineering efforts still remain. Moving to a Service-oriented approach means reorganizing IT to focus on supporting Services and the processes that include them, as well as reorganizing lines of business along process lines. The very human issues of responsibility, territory, and authority still remain. In fact, Service orientation may actually exacerbate business process issues at some firms, because previously intractable problems are now brought back to the front burner.

New Roles in the Service-Oriented World
Fast forward to the 21st century, and Service orientation promises the business agility that companies need to achieve the long-desired goals of reengineering. However, there is only a promise, but no guarantee. We can architect the technology for change, but changing the people is another matter altogether. The greatest change management challenge facing organizations today is the breaking down of the business/technology dichotomy. Now more than ever, business people must be tech-savvy, and techies must be business-savvy.

Such change doesn’t happen overnight. People are naturally resistant to change, where some are more resistant than others. It is absolutely essential, however, that companies foster increasing numbers of specialists who are both business and tech-savvy. First are the enterprise architects, who must maintain a broad picture of the structure of the entire extended enterprise, including both business and technology. (ZapThink has discussed the role of the enterprise architect in a previous ZapFlash). Second are the business analysts, who are tech-savvy business people who understand the intricacies of business processes, and are able to translate business requirements into process changes and Service descriptions. The business analyst role has been a nebulous one up to this point at many companies, where many individuals with the title have little if any tech-savviness. In the Service-oriented world, however, companies will need business analysts who can work with architects to define Services and incorporate them into Service-oriented processes.

Service-Oriented Thinking
The human changes Service orientation requires extend well beyond enterprise architects and business analysts. In fact, the principles of Service orientation extend to the business world as a whole. In particular, businesspeople must apply the concepts of loose coupling and federation to their business. The business must be loosely coupled from IT for the business to remain agile. In other words, changes in the business environment shouldn’t directly affect the IT environment, and vice-versa. In the B2B environment, business should remain independent from one another but interact at a layer of abstraction above the individual processes of each participant — in other words, businesses should interact in a federated way with one another.

Big picture concepts like applying loose coupling and federation to business go beyond simple metaphor to an actual extension of the IT principles to the business. This perspective is ironic in light of the fundamental driving principle behind the Internet buildout of the late 1990s, the integration of business and technology called eBusiness. Where eBusiness called for tight coupling between business and technology, Service-orientation promises to achieve the goals of eBusiness by loosely coupling these elements. Just as with reengineering that came before, the technical maturity required to make eBusiness a success lagged behind the hype.

So now we’re nearing 2004, and we’re all older and wiser. If you’re skeptical about Service orientation providing the IT agility needed to make reengineering and eBusiness a success, you’re not alone — and that’s a good thing. So let’s step back and think about what is really the human side of Service orientation: Service. Extend Service orientation beyond IT and you have companies that focus on service (now with a lower-case “s”) — serving their customers, shareholders, partners, and employees. If IT can be expressed as Services discoverable on the network, then let’s express companies as services as well. If you are able to do that, then you’ve truly discovered the human side of Service orientation.