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Digitalization and automation are no longer at the top of the agenda of SME+ companies. Most processes are already widely supported by IT systems. With advanced IT solutions becoming cheaper, the market has been flooded with apps, services and other cloud services. This has led to multiple systems being used, but no clear overview of what all these separate applications do and what links and information are needed to make them work. These developments have created new information management challenges. Namely, the unbundling of information flows and information technology.

As a young IT entrepreneur, I encounter similar situations in different industries. Companies have similar problems, but each uses their own “customized” method to tackle these problems. That these solutions are different makes sense; after all, that’s what gives a company its unique identity. However, if you start seeing IT as building blocks for a solution, you can reuse a lot of these building blocks and replace them independently. In a climate where business changes rapidly, it is important to be able to move quickly. All you need to achieve this is the right mindset.

One of DUODEKA’s startups, Mr. Winston, is a hospitality POS system. When we got in touch with the market, we learned that a POS system is more than a registration system for orders and bills. Users see the POS system as the central point where information is exchanged on the shop floor. So it also includes customer loyalty, product information, table occupancy, workflow support, staff scheduling and inventory management, among other things. In short, a lot of information essential to power CRM systems, accounting systems, purchasing systems, reservation systems, business intelligence systems and other business-critical systems.

Microservices

In these situations – where the functional scope of the IT landscape is enormous – it makes sense to look at alternatives to a traditional monolithic architecture. Implementing a microservice architecture could be an obvious choice in these cases, which – when properly implemented – can even be a strategic enabler. That is, the organization can pursue its strategic goals in a more focused way.

Agile management techniques already assume short development phases and a changeable business scope; the microservice architecture (MSA) is an IT architecture that matches this. A microservice is a stand-alone deployable service that automates, for example, 1 process or 1 task. Despite its connection to new concepts such as DevOps and Continuous Integration, microservices fit perfectly with the Unix philosophy as defined back in 1978 by Douglas McIlroy; “Do one thing, and do it well.” It seems like we had forgotten this in recent years.

Thinking in microservices and dividing a system into components keeps the development, implementation and maintenance of the system manageable. Each component fulfills a business function and does only what it is supposed to do, nothing more, nothing less. This increases transparency and prevents a jumble of information flows. How to determine what such a component does is described below.

Use the business for a clear scope

A critical step in designing an MSA is defining a clear scope of services, or in other words, determining granularity. For Web services and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) in general, clear guidelines have already been written to define a scope, think service orchestration and service choreography (C. Peltz, 2003). For MSA, however, this consideration is even more sensitive because the move to too small a service (a nanoservice) is quickly made. Here, the benefits of the separate service do not outweigh the additional complexity that a service also brings.

So determining the granularity of services is a difficult task for the IT architect. DUODEKA’s premise is that the business is leading. The obsolescence of systems is not so much related to the obsolescence of technology, but to a misfit with the business due to, for example, the change of business processes. If these business processes are independently translated to IT, they can also be replaced independently.

Communication

Not every organization is set up to use MSA; instead of large development teams that focus on the entire IT landscape, you soon set up multiple smaller teams, each responsible for a particular part of the scope. However, this does mean that communication becomes a challenge. Impact Mapping is a strategic planning technique used to help companies define a roadmap for MSA. In many projects, it is unclear how requirements should be prioritized. With impact mapping, you map what impact a new IT feature or service will have on different user groups spread across different IT systems. This communication tool provides the ability to align global business objectives between different teams.

I won’t claim that MSA is the holy grail for every company to organize IT developments. However, if you want to stay ahead technologically, shift capital investments to operational costs and provide multiple IT functions, then a Micro Service Architecture offers a unique opportunity to achieve this. An architecture driven by operations, that’s how you accelerate your business.

About the author

Wouter van Ooijen, 25, is founder of DUODEKA and the hospitality system Mr. Winston. He started programming at age 12 and hasn’t stopped since. His passion for programming later merged with a passion for entrepreneurship. Within DUODEKA and Mr. Winston, Wouter deals with the service architecture of systems. The background for this role comes from his studies at Tilburg University (Bachelor in Economics and IT and Master in Information Management), where he focused on how business connects to IT and vice versa.

References

McIlroy, M. D., Pinson, E. N., & Tague, B. A. (1978). UNIX Time‚ÄźSharing System: Foreword. Bell System Technical Journal, 57(6), 1899-1904.

Peltz, C. (2003). Web services orchestration and choreography. Computer, 36(10), 46-52.

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